Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles

Racing Abroad For A Cause

North County’s Emily Miller and Tricia Reina are gearing up for the most challenging all-women off-road race in the world. The Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles takes place March 19 to April 2 in Morocco, attracting more than 200 women ranging from professional athletes to movie stars – even the princess of Morocco. Encinitas-based Miller, a professional off-road racer, returns for her third competition and is slated as the “one to watch.” A driver for Rod Hall Racing, she has Ironmanned and won the Baja 1000 and the Vegas to Reno 1000. Of being drawn to this race, Miller notes, “I felt it was a good way to get international experience and a better understanding of what needs to be done as a racer trying to tackle international logistics, language barriers, different rules, etcetera. I now keep returning because it is amazing and close to my heart.”

Miller has recruited two other American teams to the Moroccan rally and is helping to train the U.S. competitors in the Imperial Dunes. Reina, a Carlsbad resident and owner of The Floral Department, has contributed to organizations including Voices For Children and MCASD, to name but a few. She and her sister Amy Lerner will compete in this grueling race for the first time. “We grew up around cars and have always had interest in things automotive,” Reina explains. “This rally seemed like the perfect opportunity to explore something not so familiar – off-road racing.” Partnering with Girl Effect, a nonprofit that raises awareness about adolescent girls growing up in the developing world, the sisters are looking to stake a claim in Morocco and make a difference at the same time. girleffect.org

From traditional navigation of only a compass and ruler to camping nine nights in the Moroccan desert, teams face an unparalleled experience. “It is very difficult not to have modern GPS and even more interesting to choose your own route,” Miller elaborates. “You don’t have a support crew chasing you during the day or able to meet you in transition stages. Once the flag drops, you are on your own until you make it back to the bivouac at night.”

Founded in 1990 by Dominque Serra and managed by Maienga Communications, the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles has extensive initiatives to maintain the land. It is the only motorsport event that has received ISO Certification 14001 for strict environmental practices. In addition, its nonprofit, Heart of Gazelles, financially supports a number of Moroccan outlets by providing medical treatment, building schools and orphanages, and offering job training for women.

“I’m looking forward to this awesome challenge,” Reina concludes. “To some it might seem simple in comparison to daily life that is filled with nonstop BlackBerry buzzing, phones ringing, traffic. Though I anticipate it will be one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had, and the only traffic to be a herd of Camels.” To learn more about the Rallye Aicha des Gazelles, and to track these women’s progress, visit www.rallyeaichadesgazelles.com. To view a video about this extraordinary race, please click here. Mia Stefanko