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SOLO ACT RIDES ON MOTORCYCLIST HONORS LATE PARTNER BY RIDING IN BAJA 1000.

Byline: TIM HADDOCK Staff Writer

When Anna Cody was in the early stages of her off-road racing career, she had a goal. She wanted to put together the first all-woman racing team to complete the Baja 1000 on a motorcycle.

She tried a few different combinations, but none of them worked until she teamed with Lillie Sweetland for the race in 1990.

Together, they became the first women motorcycle teammates to complete the Baja 1000, described by many as the most grueling and challenging off-road race in North America.

They never got a chance to repeat the feat.

Five years ago, Sweetland died of leiomyosarcoma, a very rare form of cancer found in the uterus, stomach and intestines, walls of blood vessels and skin.

Cody, who lives in Channel Islands and works for an insurance company in Camarillo, is 16 years removed from her last history-making Baja 1000 with Sweetland.

This weekend, Cody plans to make history again. She is preparing to become the first female motorcycle rider to complete the race on her own. She will be racing the Baja 1000 in memory of her friend and teammate and to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

``It's going all the way to La Paz and I thought what a feat to be able to race all the way to LaPaz solo,'' the 38-year-old Cody said. ``As a tribute to her, how could I ever replace her with another teammate? It's a challenge, a personal challenge for myself, as well as raising money for the cancer society.''

The 39th running of the Baja 1000 starts Saturday in Ensenada, Baja California. Drivers and riders will have 43 hours to complete the 1,050- mile course from Ensenada to La Paz. The last time Cody and Sweetland did the Baja 1000, they completed the course in 17 hours.

What Cody remembers most about that race was not being the first women to complete the Baja 1000, but having to do it on a borrowed motorcycle and getting lost because some of the course markers were misplaced.

``Racing the race and being able to finish was just a huge accomplishment,'' Cody said. ``We had so many obstacles in our way.''

Sweetland was the mechanically inclined part of the team, a graduate of the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Phoenix. The motorcycle they brought to Baja broke down the day before the race, and they had to borrow one from another team.

``She actually prepped the race bike that we borrowed within one day, which is unheard of,'' Cody said. ``It was just a really neat experience. We went through a lot to be able to do it. To finish it was really incredible, amazing actually.''

Sweetland and Cody continued to race together until Sweetland had her first son in 1992. She had two boys at the time of her death April 17, 2001. They were 7 and9.

``She fought to the very end,'' Cody said. ``It was a cancer that wouldn't react to chemo. She had to have several surgeries, surgery after surgery, to remove the tumors.''

Cody stopped racing the Baja 1000 after an accident took her out of the 1991 race. She was doing a test run on the course when she flipped her motorcycle and crashed on a bed of rocks. She broke her elbow, shattered her forearm, and was unable to compete.

``We were 80 miles from anywhere and had no choice but to actually ride out with a broken arm,'' Cody said. ``It required about eight hours of surgery. And of course, the doctors said I would never be able to ride again. But I was riding again within about 2 1/2 months.''

She returned to off-road motorcycle racing, but not in the Baja 1000. She raced mostly in the Mojave Desert and near Las Vegas. She even competed in the Nevada Rally, a five-day, 2,500-mile desert race, in 1993. But she stayed away from the Baja 1000.

Attempting to complete the race as a solo rider is an incredible undertaking. Most motorcycle, trophy truck and race car teams have three to six riders or drivers who take turns during the race.

``She has a tough road ahead of her,'' said Craig White, a rider from Saugus who is part of a team of Los Angeles city firefighters racing in the Baja 1000. ``It's going to be a long race.''

The 39-year old White, an engine captain who lives in Saugus and works out of Fire Station 98 in Pacoima, is making his second start in the Baja 1000. Bruce Galien, Mike Reitmeyer, Doug Weber and Chris Hart are also on the team.

White said one day he would like to attempt to complete the Baja 500 solo, or ironman, as he calls it, but the Baja 1000 is too brutal and dangerous to try alone.

``That's huge. I don't even think I'd even attempt it,'' White said. ``I don't think I'd even try the 1000. It's probably one of the biggest feats to do on a motorcycle.''

The last rider to complete the Baja 1000 solo was Robert Laughlin from Solvang, who did it last year. Before that, Mike ``Mouse'' McCoy from Sherman Oaks did it in 2003.

Judy Smith is the only woman to complete the Baja 1000 in a solo effort. She did it in 1972 in an open-wheel desert race car.

Cody will try to become the first woman to complete the Baja 1000 solo on a motorcycle. She also has a goal of raising $25,000 for the American Cancer Society. She has raised $18,000 so far.

``It's a very noble thing to draw attention to cancer research,'' said Rick Mitchell of American Honda Motor Company Inc., which has provided Cody with some financial backing and product support. ``The whole package seemed pretty intriguing.''

Cody has the support of her competitors as well. She said the response of most when they hear about what she plans to do has been positive.

``There's a few occassional people who say, `No, you'll never make it. What do you think you're doing?''' Cody said. ``Ninety percent are supporting me in a very positive way. I've got a plan and I hope that it works.''

She said she expects to take 23 to 26 hours to complete the course on her own. The race starts at 6 a.m. Saturday, and she will have to complete part of the course at night.

That could be especially dangerous, because reports indicate a portion of the course was badly damaged during recent hurricanes and tropical storms that hit Mexico. Cody said she has heard from other riders and drivers that the final 300 miles of the course are in the worst shape.

``I'm nervous, but I'm also really, really excited,'' Cody said. ``I am looking forward to crossing the finish line. The only thing that's going to stop me would be the bike breaking or my body breaking. Other than that, I'm going to be there.''

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, box

Photo:

(1) Anna Cody, left, and Lillie Sweetland completed the Baja 1000 in 1990. Sweetland died in 2001 of leiomyosarcoma.

(2 -- color) no caption (Anna Cody)

Photos courtesy Constance Cody

(3) Lillie Sweetland helped fix a bike she and Anna Cody had to borrow for the Baja 1000 race in 1990. ``She actually prepped the race bike that we borrowed within one day, which is unheard of,'' Cody said.

Photo courtesy of Anna Cody

Box:

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 16, 2006
Words:1253
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