I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Las Vegas with the July 11th & 18th issue of the New Yorker splayed out next to me. Last year Philip Gourevitch, author of "We Wish to Inform You that Tonight you will be Killed with your Families", visited Rwanda and learned about the riders of Team Rwanda. He came back in November last year during the Continental Championships and the Tour of Rwanda to finish the story....or at least to finish that chapter. What came from those weeks with the Team, the individual riders, countless hours of interviews is the article in this week's New Yorker, "Climbers....A team of young cyclists tries to outrun the past".
As I stood in my local Barnes and Noble clutching a couple of copies of the magazine tightly to my chest, I had one of those moments I have more and more frequently, how did I get here and why am I so fortunate to have a life where every day I wake up and I am part of something much bigger than myself. I am so thankful I am just a tiny cog in this machine, a very good machine according to Gasore. What I do for the Team is far from glamorous. I cook, I do hundreds of loads of cycling clothes laundry, I navigate the bureaucratic gauntlet of visas for moving the riders around the continent and now to America and South America. I organize fundraisers and am relentless in telling the story of these riders. I am not afraid to ask for the money or sponsorships to keep us going and if you're a friend of mine and have a plethora of plane miles on Delta, KLM, United or SN Brussels, BEWARE! I will do anything to help riders like Adrien, Gasore, NicNic, Nathan and all the others just have a shot at a better life. A life made possible by a bike.
I was thinking about Adrien's comment in the article. He had just won the first Wooden Bike Classic and there was talk about starting a real Rwandan team. He said, "When Jock said he'd come back, (I) didn't trust him. Muzungus tended to come, create excitement, make promises, and disappear." But Jock did come back a few months later in February 2007 and has stayed since. When looking at defining moments in life, it generally revolves around someone taking an interest and staying with you to see you through it. For most of us this is our parents, perhaps a teacher, a mentor or coach, someone who saw a potential, a light, took interest and stayed.
When I read this article I thank God every day, Jock stayed. Staying in Rwanda is not an easy thing to do. It is a difficult life fraught with danger, odd diseases, poor medical care and cultural frustrations. Adrien is living his dream, going to the Olympics, Gasore and NicNic are the new leaders of the Team just having returned from Switzerland. Gasore is an orphan who hauled potatoes for a living saving up every cent to buy his first bike to have a shot of training with the boys of Team Rwanda who would ride through his village every week. Little by little the country is changing because of cycling. Every month there are local races with serious prize money. A container of donated road bikes is on its way form Italy to Rwanda with more than 70 bicycles available for new riders. The country's Cycling Federation is a model to the rest of Africa, showing how a first class program can be built without corruption.
The number one question I get from my friends is, "How are you able to live like this?" They are referring to the fact I make very little money. I actually made more money 25 years ago waiting tables in college. This is not a "real" job. When will I come back and go back to work? They're right, it's not a real job...it's a calling. I have seen firsthand the impact of a few people who cared enough to start small and focus on a few. I have seen how that has spread to an entire nation. How could I not stay? If making breakfast and washing clothes produces a world class rider then I will do it.
When I was living in Kenya and traveled every month back to Rwanda to work with the team, Gasore would always say to me when I was getting ready to return to Nairobi, "No, no more Kenya". This time when I left in June it was, "No, no more US". Come September I'll be back, making Gasore breakfast, helping him with his English, showing him pictures of himself on Facebook and talking about his fans all around the world. I'm going to stay, as long as I can keep helping these riders live out a life that could only be described as nothing short of miraculous.
In the meantime, I'll keep telling their stories to people here who want to know, who want to help, who know they too can make a difference.
To learn more about Gasore, Adrien and the rest of the Team pick up the New Yorker at any local bookstore.