Thursday, July 28, 2011

Now I See It....

Some mornings I wake up, wondering again what city I'm in, what country and thinking about how I got here.  It was definitely a epic combination of Divine intervention, work ethic and fearlessness...the ability to jump off that false ledge of life security.  I wake up ready to start another day but deep down inside some mornings I wake up and wonder if this is a dream that someone will come and rudely shake me awake back into their reality.  You know that feeling, when everything you ever wanted is laid out before you and you have the "too good to be true feeling"?  Why would I doubt that this is exactly where God has put me and where I am supposed to be?  

A little over a week ago I flew to Austin, Texas to view a cut of the Team Rwanda documentary, Rising From Ashes.  This movie has been a major labor of love for so many people, sitting for years on the shelf when there was no money to finish it.  However, the powers that be would not let it continue to collect dust.  Through some passionate pleas of a couple of Team Rwanda board members to a very generous and equally passionate investor the movie is in its final stages, hopefully to be completed by the end of October and released in early 2012.  

I flew in on a Monday, met with TC, the filmmaker and Greg, the producer to talk about the long term marketing strategy for the movie.  We do not want people to just see the movie, be all warm and fuzzy and perhaps inspired and then do nothing.  We want to move people to act, to be part of this movement to build cycling in Rwanda, Africa and to eventually be a part of supporting the first black African team to ride in the Tour de France.  This year, above all years, when I watched the Tour all I saw was a sea of white.  I want to be a part of changing that for future generations of riders.

Tuesday I met with some talented men in Dallas who have also become part of this movement and want to help the Team with our Strategic Plan and marketing for the future in conjunction with the movie.  Often I am overwhelmed by the talent, experience and knowledge of the people who offer to help us.  This is not my area of expertise, I sold food for a living, what do I know about marketing a National Cycling Team?  All I know is this is a story that needs to be told and all I'm going on is my passion for telling it.  I believe I'm just being put in front of all the right people.

Last Tuesday evening I saw the film with five other people who were there to see it and provide feedback to TC and Greg.  I was not going to provide any accurate feedback as I am way too close to the story which was evident in the first three minutes when I started to cry.  I started to cry when I saw the scenes of Rwanda.  Just the country.  I make no secret of my love/hate relationship with Rwanda.  It's not really a "hate" per se, it's more an extreme frustration, an inescapable exhaustion that at times hits me like a wave crashing on the shore.  I want so much to help these riders but their pasts, their lives even today are so tremendously difficult, crushingly difficult, painful.  When I see them smile I am overcome with emotion.  There is not a day in Rwanda I can make it through where my eyes don't well up with tears....frustrating tears, pain tears and the best of all...joyful tears.  And so I watched the film and sobbed.  I am shocked by how much the boys have changed in five years.  They are young, confident men who speak English, lead younger riders and laugh...they really laugh!  I am also struck by how much Jock has aged.  Rwanda, this Team, this life has not been easy for him.  My admiration for what he has done, for him as a human being has increased exponentially.  

This morning I'm sitting in a generic Starbucks in Park City, Utah.  I am here at Dealer Camp, here to tell the story of the team to anyone, any vendor, any potential sponsor who will listen and want to help.  Jock, Max, Nathan, NicNic, Boy, Gasore, Kiki and Obed are in Brazil at the Tour of Rio, the team's first invitation to a race outside of the continent of Africa.  

Adrien is in London getting to ready to race on the course he will race in the Olympics next summer.  Yesterday afternoon I received an email from Greg, our film producer who is in London filming Adrien for the ending of the film....

This marks day 3 in London with Adrien, and we're so thankful to be here. Not only as filmmakers but as men who have grown to admire and respect Team Rwanda and Adrien as heroes. I'll tell you, this is a HERO moment for Adrien. From never riding in a car to riding the Olympic course. Epic.

Now for the first time Adrien is able to truly imagine what this opportunity means for him. Tonight was particularly special, we went to a special event in Trafalgar Square where the Olympics put on a one year until the Olympics event. There were about 30,000 people packed into this square, they unveiled the Olympic medals, and formally invited the Olympians to come to London. Adrien was in the crowd, his eyes were huge, and he turned to us and said... "Now I can see it."

We are spread across three continents at the moment, spread as thin as we always are, but I know we have support and that support continues to grow daily.  I see pictures like this of Adrien and I know to the core of my soul, this is exactly where God put me.  I will do anything to see Adrien, Gasore, NicNic and the others get everything out of life they were destined to receive...and I will never stop being emotional when I see pictures of joy like this....this is real.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Climbers....Outrunning the Past

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'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.