The boys laughed when Tarah Gieger began riding her motorcycle as a youth in Puerto Rico.
Then she started beating them, and the laughter stopped.
“I was just accepted there, and nobody thought anything weird of it there,” Gieger said. “When I came up to the (United) States, it was a little bit different because I would race in the men’s classes and the boys’ classes. Their dads weren’t excited that their sons were getting beat by a girl.
“They raced a lot harder than maybe another guy the same speed as me. Guys would go out of their way to make sure they weren’t going to get yelled at by their dads back at the pits because some girl beat them.”
Some girl won her share of racers, and those experiences helped shape the kind of person and racer she has become.
Gieger is one of the more accomplished athletes in her sport, having won seven X Games medals, including gold in 2008 in Los Angeles. No female has medaled more often at the X Games.
She is in Las Vegas for the AMA EnduroCross season opener at 8 p.m. today at Orleans Arena, one of three such local events. The AMA Supercross season-ender is at 7 p.m. Saturday at Sam Boyd Stadium, and the Amateur National Arenacross Championships is at 8 a.m. Sunday at South Point Arena.
Gieger, 28, became known for more than just riding a bike last July when she made the cover of “ESPN The Magazine’s” annual “body issue.” Unlike “Sports Illustrated’s” famous swimsuit issue, ESPN’s version is devoted to athletes showing their sculpted forms while hiding the parts that would be more suited for “Playboy.”
Posing for the magazine originated from an April Fool’s joke a few years ago after “Transworld Motocross” magazine wanted to run photos of her in a swimsuit.
“I was like, ‘There’s no way I’m going to do a shoot for a motorcycle magazine,’ ” Gieger said.
So as a joke, she put together a video hinting at a breast enhancement, and her face was photo-shopped onto the picture of an endowed model standing in front of a motorcycle. Gieger eventually forgot about the photo, which “Transworld Motocross” — in on the joke — had published.
Someone at ESPN, though, saw the picture. The next thing Gieger knew, ESPN was inquiring through Red Bull about her interest in doing an actual photo shoot, without the photo-shop.
“I didn’t have any hesitation to say yes,” Gieger said.
Other than when she initially dropped her robe, Gieger said she didn’t feel self-conscious as she rode her bike wearing only racing boots.
“After that, I was just trying to get the shot,” she said. “There was so much to think about. You’re trying to cover yourself while still trying to ride and not crash. I think I would’ve been a lot more uncomfortable if I was just standing in front of a white board or something. Everybody was super cool. After the first five minutes, you kind of forget that you’re not wearing anything.”
Being put in exposed situations was nothing new for Gieger, who spent the first part of her racing career trying to prove she belonged in the male-dominated sport.
She became the first woman to participate in the Motocross of Nations, competing for Team Puerto Rico in 2007. Gieger also was the first female motorcyclist to land a backflip.
And like the toughest guys, she can bounce back from injuries.
Gieger broke her pelvis and neck in 2005. In 2009, she competed through the pain of a broken wrist.
Even with that toughness, Gieger brought a certain femininity to the sport, opening it to females who wouldn’t usually give motorcycles a thought.
“It’s cool now to see younger girls coming up,” Gieger said. “There’s kind of an influx of women riders that look more like the normal girl that you’d see around town. It’s cool because (her career has) inspired a lot of younger girls that were maybe scared or tentative before being the only women in racing.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter @markanderson65.