“Ladies of the ECEA” Part One

With special Guest Lissa Aldakimov

It’s no secret, some of our clubs are struggling for members, it’s getting harder and harder to have our events and the mean age of our riders is getting older. But if you have been around our sport for the last few years you might have noticed an interesting thing happening. There are a lot more female riders getting into our sport and they are not just buying bikes and learning to ride. They are joining clubs, attending events and competing in races and this is an awesome thing! I personally believe that if our sport is going to survive, and I believe it will, it will be in large part due to increased numbers of female riders joining our ranks. Last season we had female riders participate in all our Enduros, including 10 women who rode Scrub Pine, 10 who rode Beehive, and 8 who rode Green Briar. I have it on good authority that there will be 12+ ladies from DVTR alone racing Greenbriar in 2023.

These lady riders come from all over and are a very diverse group of individuals. Here are a few of our ladies who had a strong showing at our events in 2022.

Cassandra Ficacci lives NYC and works in the fashion industry, she leaves the city most every weekend to ride her Gas Gas enduro somewhere. She took 1st place in the women’s class in 2022 in her first season of Enduro racing.

Sarah Trout is a student who started riding Enduros with her father Rob Trout in 2021, she took second in women’s class in 2022 in her second season of riding Enduros.

Liz Moody Kiniery is a school principal from Philadelphia. She has been riding Enduros for a few years now and is the current Vice President of DVTR. Liz took third in Women’s class in 2022.

Brook Burkey is a Medical Doctor from Philadelphia, she has been racing Enduros for the last few years. She has been known to stich up injured riders on the side of the trail. Dr. Burkey took 4th in women’s class in 2022.

And of course, no discussion on the Ladies of the ECEA would be complete without mentioning our Enduro Director. Merle Ellis Compton’s first enduro was the Delaware Enduro in 1996. She is a 4x ECEA Women’s Enduro Champion and 3X ECEA Hare Scramble Champion. She has been the ECEA Secretary since 2003. At this time, she serves as member of the Board of Trustees and ECEA Enduro Director as well as being an AMA Commissioner since 2006. Merle was inducted into the ECEA Hall of Fame in 2011. She is also a wife and the mother of two children and ……until her recent retirement, she worked a full time job.

To gain some perspective on the history of Women in the ECEA I sought out the help of no other than Lissa Aldakimov. I met Lissa in November 2021, on cold morning in South Jersey, a few days after Thanksgiving at my first Sandy Lane Enduro. I was standing on the starting line scoping out the situation. I was talking to the people on the line behind mine and instinctually trying to determine which of these folks I would need to get out of the way of and which ones I didn’t need to worry about. I notice a young lady on a 450 Kawasaki MX bike. “Wow who the hell thought it would be a good idea to have their wife/girlfriend here on a damn 450MX bike and a Kawi non the less”. I felt bad for her, but I was also thinking that it was one less person that I needed to worry about coming up behind me and passing me on this tight course.

Thirty minutes later I was on the first timed section of the race, maybe two or three miles into it and out of nowhere I see this green flash of color go past me on the inside like I was standing still. “What the Hell was that?” The next section, same thing, 2-3 miles in and here comes that green bike again, like it’s on rails, blows right past me. All day, every section, the same thing!

That young lady on the green 450mx bike was a Damn Demon and a legit bad ass. She wasn’t “fast for a girl”… She was just fast. That was the day I met Lissa Aldakimov. After the Enduro she came by to hang out with my line in the parking lot. Just a very cool down to earth woman, super humble and easy to talk to. She just kicked all our asses during the race and then sat down and hung out- she was one of us!

Lissa Adalkimov with her husband, Rob preparing for a race

Q: Lissa when was your first race and what was that like?

A: It was the late ’90s. I was but 18 years old, riding only but a few years but got this wild idea that I wanted race. No one in my family at that time really rode, let alone off-road. I wasn’t in a club yet and had no real riding buddies yet; going out to a sand pit nearby and riding alone most of time. It was still in the infancy of the internet, and I wasn’t super savvy, so where the need to do all this came from, I still haven’t a clue but I knew I was ready.

I had no one to go with me, have never even driven out of the state of NJ by myself before this, had no cellphone and armed only with a paper map and a photocopy entry for the Delaware State Hare Scramble by DER. I headed north to go south (because Millville is deep South Jersey) on I-95 via I-295 to cross the Delaware Memorial Bridge which I managed to do, but quickly proceeded to get lost and wound up in questionable area of Newark, DE at a self-serve gas station. I managed to find two nice fellows pumping gas who offered for me to follow them on Rt. 40 and would point off at the exit for Delaware City. By the time I arrived, the starting line in front of the elementary school was filled with competitors already. In a panic, I scrambled to the sign-up table that had just closed five minutes prior but the one remaining lady there in the midst of cleaning up the mess told me to hurry and find “Charlie.” Not having a clue who this “Charlie” was, I wondered through the crowd asking until I was finally pointed to “thee” Charlie Stapleford who instructed me to hurry up, get my gear on and just go ride the event. In typical fashion, I managed to get lost out near the canal roads, losing the arrows but eventually found my way back only to learn of the wonder that is phragmites, aka reeds & marsh. Guys clear hauling across it, then the front wheel dropping into a healthy sippy hole and ejecting said bike occupant like a Barbie doll kicked across the floor, it was a front seat to Blackwater ‘esque carnage being particular moist out there.

At some point I managed to return my XR250R back to the earth from hence it rose, where it required three of us to dislodge it from it’s almost final resting place. Why I wanted to go back and do more of this I’m not sure, but I’m a moth to lamp for struggle bus.

Q: Lissa, was there many other female racers when you started? Who were you competing with in those early years?

There really weren’t many ladies on dirt bikes at that time, especially off-road. Merle Compton, Patti Blair and June VanDriel were the regulars at that time in the Women’s Class. Merle [Compton] & Patti [Blair] have always been Rockstars! Once I got into Enduro’s, some of the rock runs back then without the more common course splits of today could be sparse of lady entrants understandably, and a lot of those old rock run courses could be downright mean. Starting in ‘03, I jumped to men’s classes in a goal to earn my AMA “A” card. I never just wanted to be fast “for a girl.”

Q: Where there any lady racers before you that you knew or knew of that should be mentioned? (women racers who raced ECEA that may have influenced you and should be mentioned and documented for our history)?

Kathy “Steel Butt” Campbell. She was just getting out of racing when I got into it. She was the first ECEA woman to have an AMA “A” card and many a male competitor feared & respected her. It was often their goals to at least beat Kathy they’d reiterate to me in their tales when I started. Though not a lady, I was really influenced by Fast Freddy Hoess. His impeccable and signature riding style till this day is unsurpassed even by the fastest guys of today. They may be faster (now), but nobody looked as cool as Fred doing it! I always tried to do my best emulation of his bad ass head down WFO style (without success, LOL)!

Q: What is your current ECEA enduro life like (I know you come up for some races and still help out with Beehive etc)

I’ve always prided myself on doing a lot without a lot. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten to race as much as I would have liked in the past decade or so, hitting select events, but we always ride! Racing for as long as Rob & I have (39th season for Rob & 25th for me), adding in the dramas of life and the struggles of all the prep work, money and time just to get to the events really becomes a second job when you’re working 40+ hours a week. It can wear on you taking some of the joy out of racing with the constant running year in & year out. We went and checked out in ‘21 some NEPG’s and realized quickly how much we both don’t care for that crowd and just how awesome our extended ECEA Enduro family and events really are. These are races put on by racers for racers, and the quality shows. Lot of love & dedication goes into all our ECEA events.

This season, barring any injuries or life drama, I got a real “bug” to race again, rediscovering my joy of hammer assing again after a few rough years. We’re planning to “Vagabond” through several series. Definitely hitting some ECEA Enduro’s because ideally, if time and money allowed, I’d race them all again (nobody does trail better) but the whole series is not in the cards this year. Being we gave up a few things when we escaped New Jersey to hole up in the hills of gorgeous West Virginia, we’re going to hit a few local events just to see what they’re about down here. Of course, we’ll be out helping Mike Bradway & crew at Pine Barrens Adventure Camp introduce fresh souls to the glory of off-road riding too, because there’s a special joy in watching new folks get intoxicated with churning soil.

Q: Lissa is there anything else else you would want to add to this article?

Never let your speed surpass your skill. That’s when you get hurt. If you don’t think you can do it, you’re right. Need 110% confidence that you got it. Doubt or second guessing will get you hurt, know when to call it. New injuries become old nagging injuries. Ride smartly, 99.998% of us will never get paid to do this. We’re all here because we’re either hopped up on shreddroids, looking for throttle therapy, glory or to be better than ourselves yesterday. Can’t do none of that if you’re hemmed up for nine months. And cover your clutch all the time, it’s the reigns of the horse. Thank you!

** Readers: Ladies of the ECEA will be an ongoing article and photo archive. We will follow this up with Part 2 in the near future. We will continue to interview our past Legends and current riders in an effort to document the past, present and future of Women in the ECEA.

Good Luck to all our Lady riders in 2023!