Women who need speed
Student? Real estate agent? Yes, but both love to tear up a track
By BILL SANDERS - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution - 06/20/06
The way Heather Williams' mile-a-minute style crashes with her country-girl charm, you'd swear her daddy must've been Evel Knievel and her mom Daisy Duke.
Part model, part adrenaline junky, part tomboy, part high heels and short skirts, Williams is a walking, talking pinup poster child for all things extreme. Having conquered dirt-bike jumping on ESPN's Extreme Games and 170-mph motorcycle drag racing, she's now making a foray into the 210-mph pace of Funny Car drag racing.
June 20, 2006 - By BRANT SANDERLIN / Staff - AJC Sports - ajc.com
And while she's in a serious minority, she's not alone. A few miles down the
road, Kennesaw State student Leah Cantrell has emerged as one of the best motocross riders around — male or female.
Williams and Cantrell have a hard time answering the simplest question.
"Why not?" Williams said. "Why doesn't everyone?"
The Cartersville real-estate agent, wife and pet owner has broken 19 bones, including the L2 bone in her back, her wrists, ankles, shoulder, arm, leg and collarbone. You name it, she's probably broken it.
Not to be outdone, Cantrell has four steel plates on the left side of her face, courtesy of being body-slammed into the side of a jump during a motocross race.
"That's probably the worst one," Cantrell said after reeling off what sounded like a nasty list of injuries. "I guess I've been lucky so far."
That Williams and Cantrell excel in male-dominated sports isn't all that unusual when you consider their backgrounds. They grew up around motorcycles and dads that loved driving anything fast.
Cantrell, all 5 feet 3 and 112 pounds of her, gets a little feisty when guys such as Richard Petty say things like girls don't belong in motorsports.
Two of her Loretta Lynn national championships were in women-only events, but she's done plenty of racing in events against mostly men.
And how'd she do?
"There's plenty of boys in the sport that I can demolish," she said. "I've made boys quit the sport."
Adds Williams: "I don't mind eating dirt. It never bothered me. I like it because it's a male-dominated sport."
Williams is a bit older than the 20-year-old Cantrell and is a bit more varied in the extreme sports she does. Cantrell, who considers her a friend — "We've all ridden together a lot," she says — somewhat jokingly says Williams gets bored and jumps from one thing to the next.
And unlike Williams, Cantrell doesn't want to be mistaken for a model. Williams' Web site shows off her physique and has a modeling section.
Cantrell rolls her eyes at that. It's not so much pettiness, however, as it is a truly different take on what the image females in motorsports should take on.
"I like that people notice me, and then they see what I can do, and it's like, 'Wow, you can do all this and still dress like a girl and be appealing,' " Williams said.
Cantrell doesn't want to see the women look like men either, but she also doesn't want them to look like the bathing suit models that lie on the hoods of cars on magazine covers.
"Just like the NBA did with their dress code, no bling-bling, look professional," she said. "We don't need to be posing and be swimsuit models.
"Dress like a girl, but don't parade around in sports bras."
Both women are in perfect shape. They train hard, practice hard and have lives outside the sport.
For Williams, it's selling houses. For Cantrell, it's being a student.
"I don't really have a choice in that," she said. "My parents make me go to college. It gets in the way sometimes, but it's something I do."
Williams would love to one day be a NASCAR driver. Given the opportunity, she thinks she can do just about anything with enough work.
Cantrell sees herself eventually shifting to something a little less taxing than motocross, too, like maybe snowboarding.
"If you can imagine riding a mechanical bull at about three-quarters throttle for 30 minutes or so, that's what motocross is like," Cantrell said. "That why training is so important, and that's why you hit a ceiling at a certain age.
"But I'm in my peak years right now."
LEAH CANTRELL FILE
• Two-time Loretta Lynn national amateur champion in female motocross racing
• Motocross Grand Prix of Japan Women's Race
• Currently the fastest female in Georgia and fourth best in the country (second best among amateurs).
HEATHER WILLIAMS FILE
• First female to participate in the X Games Freestyle Motocross event
• First female to perform dance routine at the
X Games on ESPN
• Raced as a pro in the WMA (Women's Motocross Association) on Speed Channel