WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNN) — It’s one of the most elite divisions of the secret service: the motorcade support unit. With just 14 motorcycle officers, the team is responsible for clearing the way for the presidential motorcades and dignitaries. In its nearly 20-year history that team has been all male, but the unit just added its first female member.
“It’s the freedom. The freedom of riding,” Lauren Gunawan has had an obsession with motorcycles since age 18, “my parents were definitely not too excited that I got a motorcycle. My dad especially. I’m daddy’s little girl.”
Gunawan grew up in Neponset Illinois, population 400. It may have been a small town, but her upbringing sparked some big dreams, “it always made me want to be a police officer.”
Gunawan’s grandfather was an auxiliary police chief. Three years ago, she set her sights even higher and made the move to DC to join the secret service. But the roar of the engines from the motorcycle support unit kept calling her name, “motors popped up and I said, that’s what I want to do, and I set my heart to it.” Landing a spot in this elite unit is no easy task. In fact it’s just about a 40-percent pass rate. The biggest hurdle is actually being able to lift one of these 11-hundred pound motorcycles, “yeah, it’s a lot of bike 1100 pounds worth.”
Officer Technician Gunawan makes it look easy, but she’s the first woman to ever join the elite motorcade support unit. It’s the division that clears the way for the presidential motorcades, maneuvering through Washington gridlock, plotting a path for the president and veep. The training and ultimate test to become part of this just-14-member team aren’t easy.
Gunawan embarked on a two-week course, riding her Harley 8 hours a day, weaving in and out of tight spaces. The first time she tried, she failed, “when I got my opportunity the first time. I was able to pick up that bike no problem. I just didn’t get through the course the first time. So, I was thankful that they were able to give me a second opportunity.”
Officer Technician Brian Popiel says, “she was definitely determined to become a technician on this unit and to get mounted. Every day she gave 120-percent.” Popiel trained Gunawan and says her attitude made the difference, “there’s no reason that a woman shouldn’t be on this unit. She brings a lot to the table. Her attitude is by far probably one of the best that I’ve seen.”
At just 30 years old, Lauren Gunawan has made her mark, “t was extraordinary. I feel like I got to break that glass ceiling.” She also set the bar for other women, “I don’t want anybody to think that they can’t get something and it looks unreachable. If you put hard work and dedication into it, you’ll get it and you’ll achieve your goals.”