Sunday, June 26, 2011

More Than a Hero

A couple of weeks ago I was working the Kwita Izina stage race with Team Rwanda.  It was an intense two day race between Kigali, Kinigi and Gisenyi, Rwanda with teams from Morocco, Eritrea, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya plus three Rwandan teams, one of which was all new riders. 

The last day of the race I witnessed one of the most incredible feats of cycling from our own Adrien Niyonshuti.  I could not even begin to do justice to his story that day so I will let his coach, Jock Boyer tell the tale....

Thursday, June 23, 2011

African Fashion Part Deux

It is 4:50am Thursday morning, Las Vegas.  Yes, I must be suffering the effects of jet lag.  As I lay awake in bed since 10:00pm last night I kept thinking about all the other great moments in African, particularly Rwandan, fashion.  Ok, it must be the jet lag AND the three aspirin AND shot of cold medicine.

When I was scrolling through Facebook on my iPhone in bed (yes, I'm a technocrack junkie) I saw a comment on my blog from a friend of mine who works for the Embassy in Kigali. 

girl you are cracking me up. Funny cause I mostly see pink satin shirts but they look exactly the same....

I knew my view of African fashion was not unique.  And then I remembered the ultimate picture of pure, cutting edge fashion taken at a fuel station in Musanze, Rwanda this December as we headed out on our two week trip through Tanzania. 
This is CLASSIC!  There's this interesting fashion phenomenon in Rwanda where they take the detachable hoods from winter coats and only wear the hood part.  I have yet to figure out where the coat went that matched the hood as you never see the actual coat.  This "Karl Lagerfeld wannna be" fashionista took it one step further removing the faux fur around the edge of the hood to make his very own scarf. 

As an aside....Rwanda sits on the equator never getting below 60-65 degrees....

The best thing about this young fashion icon is he wears this faux fur hoodie scarf with attitude!  Fashion Week New York?

As I stepped off the plane in Detroit I was immediately struck, as I always am when I return, by the lack of decorum with which we dress in America.  Oversized baggy pants and shirts with less than appropriate sayings covering (or sometimes not) oversized bellies with baseball caps and flip flops, with scantily clad young girls who apparently don't have parents who are parents or are auditioning for Hustler's Girl Next Door lay out and young men whose pants are almost to their knees with their underwear hanging out makes me wonder who really has the best fashion sense.  It's funny that people in a third world country take more care and wear with more style and class the precious few second hand clothes they have then we Americans with closets full of new clothes, generally most too small.  Money cannot buy class....only new clothes.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Red Satin Shirt

There are things I see in Rwanda every day that always make me have a little laugh and the number one trigger is the Red Satin Shirt.

Throughout Rwanda on any given day in any part of the country you are guaranteed to see the Red Satin Shirt.  They pop up in the cities, along dirt roads in the country, on a Rwandan friend's back.  They populate the country.

This is the infamous Red Satin Shirt:
What makes the Red Satin Shirt such a stand out in Rwanda besides being bright and ultra shiny is that it seems every 25th person is wearing one.  Which begs the question, "Which company is responsible for flooding the market with these shirts?"  Was it a Christmas item gone bad for retailers years ago?  

Almost all clothing in Rwanda and Africa in general is second hand.  One can assume there's been a massive overrun and/or poor sales of an item by the number of identical twins it has in the country.  For example, Eminem concert t-shirts, literally enough to clothe the continent.  Does that small village farmer 35 kilometers down a dirt road listen to Eminem?

I am always astonished, as someone who has absolutely no fashion sense beyond jeans, t-shirts and flip flops, at the outfits I see in Africa and how much thought goes into making the best outfit out of things Americans (mostly) and Europeans give away.  This is a classic ensemble seen at the end of the Gisenyi stage of Kwita Izina.  What young African men wear to a bike race...

What continues to amaze me is how everyone can keep their clothes spotless.  Rwandans always look put together.  They could live in a mud shack during rainy season with no clean water and electricity and they will emerge on Saturday afternoons (wedding days in Rwanda) wearing the brightest, cleanest Rwandan traditional outfits while I can't seem to keep the bike grease off my legs and clothes.  

I believe another reason everyone looks so great in things most Americans would never wear is because they are thin and in the case of men, generally super fit.  Try it.  If you want a new wardrobe try losing the extra 10, 15, 20+ pounds you're carrying around and watch how you can make a $10 skirt from Target look like you're wearing Vera Wang.  Face it America, fat is not flattering in clothes no matter how much money you spend on them!

And while I've gone down the rant path suddenly....let it be known that you really only need a couple of things.  No one needs closet after closet of clothes.  I took 3 pairs of jeans, 2 capri shorts, 4 t-shirts, 3 long sleeve wool shirts (it was winter in Joburg) and 3 pairs of shoes to Rwanda for a month and I over packed!  I also brought 2 nice going out shirts (never went out, never do actually) and 2 dresses.  Never wore those items.  Less is more.  

One final thought about second hand not give away your "Johnson", your crude shirts you buy in places like Vegas or New Orleans or anything else you would not want your teenage son or daughter to wear.  It could end up on someone's non English speaking grandmother in Rwanda.  Show some class when you donate!  And please, whoever is responsible for the Red Satin Shirts, we have enough thank you.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Pure Love of Cycling

Being in the cycling world, being a cyclist myself and knowing a few professional cyclists the number one topic of conversation lately has been, "Do you think Lance doped?".  Since the 60 Minutes show with Tyler Hamilton confessing his doping sins to the world, friends have asked my opinion about the whole doping bruhaha in cycling.

This is what I think....
If you, as a once high level professional cyclist doped that was your call.  You had every right to say no, there are many serious Cat 1 riders who are there because they chose to do it cleanly.  That being said, throwing all your other teammates under the bus is not good for your image or the sport of cycling.  It makes you look jealous, petty and bitter.  Just say No!

If Lance did dope at one time or any time during his career I believe he did not take the victory away from any one else, because apparently his teammates were all doping too.  I like to believe Lance did it clean but right now that's between Lance and God.  No one can take away what he did for the sport of cycling.  I will be disappointed if it comes out that he was doping but not because of some hero worship fixation.  I will be disappointed that he didn't come clean before wasting millions of dollars and years of bad press for the sport.  I pray Lance is honest.  Only time will tell.
Dopers are two years ahead of dope control at all times.  It will have to come down to an honor code among cyclists to simply do it right, do it clean -- everyone!

Everyone pays the price for doping.  Cyclists win and lose races, the negative cloud over the sport of cycling is ominous, millions of dollars burnt on testing and masking could be used to actually grow the sport of cycling in a positive manner.  And some day, these dopers will have to reckon with the call of poor health due to years of abuse.  Who knows the effects these drugs have on cyclists long term.
If that's the grim reality of the professional cycling world in America and Europe is there any hope for the sport?  Yes, a resounding yes....Africa.

Friday afternoon when I was driving in to Kigali for the Saturday start of the two day Stage Race celebrating Kwita Izina, the naming of the baby gorillas, I saw wave after wave of young men and some girls riding beat up single speeds across the hills of Rwanda to get to Musanze, the start of Saturday's amateur single speed race.  I honked the car and waved as most cyclists know the worn out red Ford Explorer with Team Rwanda stickers on every side that we drive.  They waved back smiling.  These young kids with nothing but the cycling clothes (thank you to Butterfield Robinson for a huge donation of jerseys) and little packs with most everything they own strapped to their back were coming to Musanze for their BIG race.  

These kids have nothing, no electricity, no water, no one who comes out to cheer for them, they barely have a bike, a forty pound worn out rebar reinforced single speed.  But they all have hope.  They see Adrien, they know Adrien, they see they can be someone, they can have a life that doesn't involve hauling produce until the day they die.  

When we were in the Thule store in Johannesburg a few weeks ago purchasing a bike rack and trying to get a discount we mentioned we were from Team Rwanda.  The young man behind the desk lit up.  "Adrien Niyonshuti, he does us black people proud, he is so humble, so good."  Two days later I stopped back in with Adrien and you would have thought it was the second coming of Christ.  The young man yells, "Adrien, Adrien Niyonshuti in my store!"  He grabs a camera shoves it in my hand and I take a picture of a South African cycling enthusiast with his Rwandan hero.

This is cycling in Africa.  Adrien is meticulous with his diet and his training.  He is a student of the sport and all his coaches in South Africa with MTN Qhubeka love working with him.  Everyone who meets Adrien wants to see him succeed, because Adrien will do whatever it will take to succeed except dope.

Gasore and Nicodem just returned from seven weeks at the UCI Training Center in Agile, Switzerland, transformed.  They are the next generation to give hope to all the kids, any kid with a bike in Rwanda.

I managed to snap a few pictures between stages and the ones below are from the start of Stage 2, Saturday afternoon in Musanze.  Musanze is the home to Team Rwanda and as you can see, the fans came out in masses.  Even the guy from the market where I buy my 180 eggs a week was there to see the boys.

This is cycling in Africa. 

So, my thought is this.  How about taking the millions of dollars wasted on all these Federal investigations and helping out some kids in Africa?  Racers who dope, do these kids in Africa a favor and start racing clean.  Be a role an Adrien Niyonshuti...someone that makes all of us, white or black, proud!


Team Rwanda bikes lined up along the ditch with the every growing masses closing in.  Rwandans just want to get close to the bikes, touch them, they know the riders, they just want to be part of the Race Moment

The crowd moving in to catch the start of Stage 2 of Kwita Izina in Ruhengeri, Rwanda.  The Team is off to the right on the other side of the ditch simply to have a bit of space otherwise they would be instantly surrounded by hundreds of fans all wanting to touch a piece of their race bikes.

Friday, June 10, 2011

2:10AM June 11, 1966

Yes world, I am 45 today.  (Actually tomorrow, the 11th but I won't have internet tomorrow TIA).

When did that happen?  Isn't forty-five old?  It sure was when I was 21!  When I was 21 my mom was 45.  My mom was old when I was 21....sorry mom, you know I love you!  Now I am 45 and my mom is 69 and she doesn't seem so old anymore.  

I wish I had a baby picture to share.  Actually, I wish I could post a picture of my birth announcement.  My dad worked as a forklift mechanic and my birth announcement had my name in boxes being lifted by a forklift K I M B E R L Y vertically stacked.  It still is the coolest birth announcement I've ever seen.  I guess my parents were young and cool at some point.

I came into the world big.  Seriously, I was 9 pounds 10 ounces and 22" long (I mom will correct me if I missed an inch or ounce).  I was two weeks late obviously I was NOT ready to face the world.  I came into the world with an amazing head of jet black hair, no bald baby for me.  I have commented in an earlier blog that I am not a true blonde.  I know, shocker!  I walked early, talked early and have been running non stop and living up to the first born overachiever leader child ever since.  

My favorite phrase as a child was, "Mom, I'm bored".  I just couldn't seem to max out the stimulus needed to keep my brain engaged. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. was quoted on June 11, 1963, "If a man hasn’t discovered something he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”  Did King have a premonition? 

I have always felt that I needed to do something good in the world.  Mantra:  God did not put me on this earth to suck air and die!

So, here I am once again in Rwanda.  Essentially unemployed, not sure of the direction of my life, officially mid life (I figure I'll live to 90...good genes) and homeless.  But I discovered what I am willing to die for...or at least get malaria or some other African disease for...cycling in Africa.  Changing lives in Africa, right now specifically Rwanda through the bike.  

The past couple of days in Rwanda we had a training camp for twenty riders.  Adrien was up from South Africa.  I had been in South Africa the week before for a fundraising ride with Adrien.  To see that young man speak to a group of about 25 strangers telling his story, confident and strong left me speechless. 

When I got back to Rwanda I met up with Gasore and Nicodem fresh off the plane from Switzerland and seven weeks of training at the UCI Center in Agile.  They were fit and full of stories...and Gasore...speaking English!!  Even though I have become I big gigantic cry baby of emotion since moving to Africa hearing him speaking English brought me full circle to two years ago when I first met Gasore days before his first race.  Gasore "gets it".  He tries so hard to overcome all the hurdles in his path....illiteracy, not speaking English or French, an orphan.  He came back from Switzerland a cyclist, a real racing cyclist.  In the beginning of the week I commented how much I liked his UCI baseball cap.  I am a fan of the bad hair day baseball cap attire.  The other day when he left he came to me and handed me his hat.  There goes the waterworks again.  It was his way of saying thank you.  The gesture itself was everything.  I gave him back the cap and told him he earned it and I was very honored he would give it to me but it was his, to wear proudly.  

So, I guess at 45 this is what it is about for me.  I still do not know what I want to be when I grow up but I do know what moves me, what gets me out of bed in the morning cracking 60 eggs to feed 20 hungry riders at 7:00am.  

Birthdays are one of the most important days of the year for me.  Christ's birthday and then my own birthday, not in a "selfish look at me it's my day" type of way.  It is a celebration of life.  On this day I came into the world and hopefully the world has been a tiny bit better because I have been in it.  At least that's what I strive for the other 364 days a year.  It is a celebration of life, yours, mine, all of ours.  I remember the phrase, "God don't make no junk."  How very true.  To celebrate your birthday is to celebrate all the good, hope and promise of your life and to reflect on how you can do it better in the coming year, to take good care of the life God entrusted to you, to feed yourself well, to exercise, to love boldly, and to live large.

Oh, and's not old at all if you do it right!