Joi “SJ” Harris, known as the first African-American woman road racer, died on the Vancouver set of “Deadpool 2” after a motorcycle crash.
The pioneer grew up in Brooklyn but didn’t catch wind of the motorcycle racing industry until adulthood.
Determined to learn how to ride, she headed to New Jersey Motorsports Park, a track three hours away from her home, to figure out the basics. That was in 2009, and just five years later, she was licensed and gearing up for her first race.
However, it didn’t come without its challenges.
“I am everything people never saw in this sport,” she told Black Girls Ride. “I was alone for most of the [first] day, scared and in tears. I had no one to talk to, and I didn’t know what I needed.”
But pretty soon, she found her footing, accumulating a slew of sponsors and earning the nickname “SJ Sidewayz.”
Billing herself as “the first licensed African-American woman in U.S. history to actively compete in sanctioned motorcycle road racing events,” she was an incredible competitor. She participated in races such as the GP Moto Cup and the Championship Cup Series, where she placed first earlier this year.
A medical professional by day, she didn’t keep her secrets of success to herself. Harris aimed to shed light on the field at conferences and expositions so more women of color could learn about it.
“Sisters on the track are few and far in between. I want to show them that there’s more for them to be exposed to. I want to get the kids interested through experience,” she told Black Girls Ride.
She was excited for the opportunity to do just that when she got the call from the producers of “Deadpool 2.” She was hired to be a stunt woman for Zazie Beetz, known for playing Vanessa on FX’s “Atlanta.” It was her first movie job.
"The opportunity of a lifetime came along. We had just booked her on the film, and was sworn to secrecy, and then she was off to Canada to make her mark on the world,” Porshce Taylor, one of her friends, said in a Facebook post.
She died while performing a stunt, which she had done successfully four times prior, when she went airborne and crashed through the glass of a building.
Since her death, fans and colleagues have paid tribute to the star through social media including “Deadpool 2” star Ryan Reynolds.
“We’re heartbroken, shocked and devastated...but recognize nothing can come close to the grief and inexplicable pain her family must feel,” he wrote on Twitter. “My heart pours out to them -- along with each and every person she touched in this world.”
Harris leaves behind a host of relatives and friends.
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