AP PHOTOS: In Iran, woman motocross racer jumps barriers

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Iranian women motocross racers
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AP PHOTOS: In Iran, woman motocross racer jumps barriers
In this photo taken Sunday, May 31, 2015, Behnaz Shafiei fills the tank of her motocross bike at a gas station near Hashtgerd, Iran, before a training session at a racetrack on the outskirts of the city, some 45 miles (73 kilometers) west of the capital, Tehran. "When two days pass and I do not ride my motorcycle, I get really ill. Even the thought of not having a motorcycle some day gives me an awful feeling," Shafiei said. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
In this photo taken Friday, June 5, 2015, Behnaz Shafiei rides her motocross bike during her training session while fans watch riders at a racetrack near the village of Baraghan, some 19 miles (30 kilometers) west of the capital Tehran, Iran. On a recent weekend, she drew a crowd when she took off her helmet, part of a lot of gear from her international sponsors. Women crowded around Shafiei to take snapshots with her. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
In this photo taken Friday, June 5, 2015, Iranian Behnaz Shafiei pushes her motocross bike by a racetrack as she takes a break during her riding session on the outskirts of Baraghan, some 19 miles (30 kilometers) west of the capital Tehran, Iran. "My goal is to be a pioneer to inspire other women,” she said. “Together, we can convince authorities to recognize women’s motorcycle racing." (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
In this photo taken Friday, June 5, 2015, Iranian Behnaz Shafiei rides her motocross bike during her training session at a racetrack in the Alborz mountain range near the village of Baraghan, some 19 miles (30 kilometers) west of the capital Tehran, Iran. For motocross rider Shafiei, she only set out to fly over the dirt hills of race tracks, but instead found herself jumping over the cultural and legal barriers woman face in the Islamic Republic. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
In this photo taken Friday, June 5, 2015, Iranian motocross rider Behnaz Shafiei ascends on a hill during her training session, while two vehicles drive off-road in the Alborz mountain range near the village of Baraghan some 19 miles (30 kilometers) west of the capital Tehran, Iran. For motocross rider Shafiei, she only set out to fly over the dirt hills of race tracks, but instead found herself jumping over the cultural and legal barriers woman face in the Islamic Republic. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
In this photo taken Friday, June 5, 2015, Iranian motocross rider Behnaz Shafiei, left, prepares for a training session, standing by other riders at a racetrack near the village of Baraghan, some 19 miles (30 kilometers) west of the capital Tehran, Iran. "When two days pass and I do not ride my motorcycle, I get really ill. Even the thought of not having a motorcycle some day gives me an awful feeling," Shafiei said. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
In this photo taken Friday, June 5, 2015, Behnaz Shafiei rides her motocross bike during her training session at a racetrack in the Alborz mountain range near the village of Baraghan, some 19 miles (30 kilometers) west of the capital Tehran, Iran. Shafiei fell in love with motorcycles 11 years ago when she saw a countrywoman running errands on a small bike. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
In this photo taken Friday, June 5, 2015, Behnaz Shafiei rides her motocross bike during her training session while fans watch riders at a racetrack near the village of Baraghan, some 19 miles (30 kilometers) west of the capital Tehran, Iran. For motocross rider Shafiei, she only set out to fly over the dirt hills of race tracks, but instead found herself jumping over the cultural and legal barriers woman face in the Islamic Republic. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
In this photo taken Friday, June 5, 2015, Iranian motocross rider Behnaz Shafiei descends on a hill during her training session near the village of Baraghan, some 19 miles (30 kilometers) west of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
In this photo taken Friday, June 5, 2015, Iranian Behnaz Shafiei rides her motocross bike during her training session while fans watch riders at a racetrack near the village of Baraghan, some 19 miles (30 kilometers) west of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
In this photo taken Sunday, May 31, 2015, Iranian motocross rider Behnaz Shafiei rests during her training session at a racetrack near the city of Hashtgerd, some 45 miles (73 kilometers) west of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
In this photo taken Friday, June 5, 2015, fans watch Iranian motocross rider Behnaz Shafiei descend on a hill during a training session near the village of Baraghan some 19 miles (30 kilometers) west of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
In this photo taken Sunday, May 31, 2015, Iranian motocross rider Behnaz Shafiei poses for a photo as she stretches her legs, while a male rider takes to the air at a racetrack at a sports complex on the outskirts of Hashtgerd, some 45 miles (73 kilometers) west of the capital Tehran, Iran. "My goal is to be a pioneer to inspire other women,” she said. “Together, we can convince authorities to recognize women’s motorcycle racing." (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
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BARAGHAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian motocross rider Behnaz Shafiei's passion for hurdling over dirt hills has led her to leap cultural and legal barriers in Iran, where women are banned from riding motorcycles in public.

"When two days pass and I do not ride my motorcycle, I get really ill. Even the thought of not having a motorcycle some day gives me an awful feeling," Shafiei said on the outskirts of Iran's capital, Tehran. "Sometimes, I think to myself, 'How did people in the past live without a motorbike?' Is life without a motorcycle possible?"

It almost became a reality for 26-year-old. In Iran it remains illegal for women to ride motorcycles in public. Conservative clerics also denounce the idea of women attending men's sporting events.

But Shafiei and five other women worked hard to get official identifications from Iran's Motorcycle and Automobile Federation to allow them to race on amateur tracks. They still don't have access to Iran's only standard motocross track at the Azadi Sports Complex in Tehran, so they often race on the capital's outskirts.

On a recent weekend, Shafiei drew a crowd when she took off her helmet, part of gear received from international sponsors. Women crowded around to take snapshots with her.

"I did not know that it was a woman riding until I noticed her hair," housewife Mahnaz Rahimi said. "It took me by surprise that a woman can be so courageous. I don't have the guts to do such a thing."

Shafiei fell in love with motorcycles 11 years ago when she saw a woman in the country running errands on a small bike.

"My goal is to be a pioneer to inspire other women," she said. "Together, we can convince authorities to recognize women's motorcycle racing."

Here are a series of images by Associated Press photographer Vahid Salemi of female Iranian motocross racer Behnaz Shafiei.

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Associated Press photographers and photo editors on Twitter: http://apne.ws/15Oo6jo

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