Friday, October 12, 2012

Olympics and Everything Else Happening Summer 2012


Every day I sit down to write and every day the task seems so daunting.  Where do I start?  How do I begin to put into words the places I have been, the experiences I have had, the feeling of epic joy and crushing sadness?  I read a book by Anne Lamott, “Bird by Bird” about the craft of writing.  If you want to write, write every day.  Where did the past two and a half months go?  There are times on rides, my quiet rides in America where all the thoughts come rushing to the surface, thoughts that I feel must be expelled or I might just spontaneously combust on the road to Red Rocks.  And then, I return and life begins again.  My life never seems to slow, never time to just think, to breathe, to write. 

Once again, I am on a plane.  I am flying back to Rwanda.  Generally I cannot seem to do anything on planes other than watch movie after movie to suck up the mindless hours.  I am not inspired to write.  I am counting the minutes until the wheels touch the earth.  Tonight somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean I decided to write.

In April I came back to the US for a short three-week trip and as I type I cannot remember why…..it was for our documentary Rising From Ashes.  At that time we still didn’t have a film festival berth.  We were just showing the film at private engagements with people who had been long time fans and other recently introduced to Team Rwanda.   During those few weeks I was in Las Vegas, San Francisco, Southern California and Phoenix.   


I returned to Rwanda hopeful that perhaps somewhere along the way the film, the story about Team Rwanda had inspired a bout of much needed generosity.  

I worry about money constantly.  I have never been able to change that feeling.  Sometimes we are three months out with available funds; sometimes it stretches to six months.  It doesn’t matter, I still am always thinking about what is next….$10,000 for tickets to Eritrea?  Olympics for Adrien?  Who is going to pay for all his training?  Camps?  Will our sponsor in Rwanda commit to another year?  Somehow we always have just enough.  Funny how God works.  Trusting in the future, a future that is based on telling our story and hoping people believe in what we are doing with some young cyclists in Rwanda, is never easy. 

If I can change one life than it has all been worth it. 

Adrien Niyonshuti was that life, that person.  So was Obed Ruvogera.


The Olympics were such a mixture of emotion.  The question most often asked when I arrived home from London was, “So…how were the Olympics?”

The Olympics were stressful, beautiful, magical, heart wrenching, frustrating and left me somewhat cynical and hopeful all at the same time.  Adrien rode of Cinderella story race.  The five days leading up to the race were anything but Cinderella, more like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas….and at this time, that is all I can say about that, someday, the book will explain it all.

Adrien’s race was epic.  He one of the greatest stories of the Games and he handled it all with a serious attitude of grace under pressure.  I have always had great respect for Adrien as a cyclist and more importantly, as a human being.  I am privileged to have share this moment of time with him.

He finished the race…..39th.  He rode exactly as he had trained for months.  It was textbook.   He was the first black African to have finished an Olympic mountain bike race.  He made history. 

I witnessed it.

The next day I was back on a plane to Rwanda and the depression rolled over me like a slowing building wave crashing on the shore.  I landed in Rwanda on a Monday night; Tuesday we started camp.  There was no time to celebrate, decompress, savor the moment, and come to terms with the fallout.  We had nine days before heading for the Tour of Rio.

I am not quite sure if it was the post partum like depression after the Olympics but the Tour of Rio plunged me from the highest pinnacle of my three years in Rwanda to one of my lowest.  The Team was a disaster.  As much as Adrien had risen to ride the race of his life, the rest of the team simply lay down and gave up, literally.  I was left trying to figure out how we could be so right and good and so wrong and pathetic in the span of ten days.  All the fight Adrien showed at the Olympics was vanquished in the six riders who raced Rio.  It was tragically disappointing.   Crash after crash and not one got on their bike to fight to get back in the back.  By the end of the race, two riders were in the car and the other four occupied the back of the peloton.  Jock, Max and I rode in the car at the end of the race caravan (position is determined based on Team’s overall performance) and talked about our future, all of us completely at a loss at the spectacle we were witnessing. 


I am thankful Rio was so beautiful and the race and organization top notch, the hotels wonderful, the beaches living up to their international reputation.  The Brazilians I met were friendly, helpful and exuded a spirit of adventure and living for the moment.  For a country, which has serious challenges with violence and crime, the people were extraordinary.  My favorite evening of the Tour was in Rio de Otras, a beach town the day before the final stage.  We sat around the pool with the Chocque (Brazilian bad ass police force) playing their guitars, singing and drinking.  All of us from all around the world getting to know one another and enjoying just a bit of down time.  Times like this is what makes all my travels so memorable, random, spontaneous people and events.

Team Rwanda’s performance and our time in the car solidified our plans to start diversifying throughout Africa.  Jock, Max and I are a team, a team that wants to do what we were able to do in Rwanda, for other countries.  In January we start with Ethiopia.  We are not leaving Rwanda.  Rwanda will have another full time mechanic and a rotating group of coaches and Max, Jock and I keeping our home base there, however, it is time for the riders to step up and take responsibility for their team.  We have given them all the tools to be successful; they must now seize the reins.

I returned to Rwanda from Rio, spent four days working, packing and trying to get my body on the current time zone and then got back on a plane to the US.

The US…..what has happened?  I am at a loss.  When did the attitude of entitlement begin to grow exponentially?  I am shocked at the health of Americans, for the love of Buddha people, get a grip.  Put down the McDonald’s, get your ass off the couch and quit blaming everything and everyone for the reason you are fat. 

There’s a new You Tube video out that summarizes everything that is wrong with America….young adults made a video protesting the school district’s decision to serve fruits and vegetables and to limit the fast food garbage.  In the video the teenager’s act like they are starving, they complain and they throw the healthy food into the trash

…..I do not even know what to do with that visual.

The young kids in the rural areas of Rwanda who never get a shower, who eat rice and beans, who live on dirt floors….the riders….their families….this is what I see day in and day out and you don’t like your fucking carrots?   I am disgusted.  If I was a parent to any one of those students I would have them on a plane so fast, plunk them down in Rwanda or Kenya or Somalia for that matter, let’s try the Daddab refugee camp. 

On the flight from Kigali to Brussels on September 10th the plane stopped in Nairobi to change crew, disembark and add new passengers.  As the plane began to fill up I noticed the back third of the plane was still empty and then I watched as Somali after Somali began to board.  They were thin, striking in their appearance.  Each person was carrying a white plastic bag with blue letters, USRP, United States Refugee Program.  They carried blankets with the USRP blue letters.  Their shoes were all exactly the same, standard issue.  Everything they owned was in those white plastic bags. 

Imagine….you have just walked days, perhaps weeks, trying to get into Kenya from Somalia your home country, dodging rebels, fighting starvation, dehydration, watching family members, friends, strangers die along the route.  If you are a woman, you are on constant alert for the errant rebels who believe rape is the best form of warfare. 

You make it to one of the worst refugee camps on the planet and you are one of the lucky ones, your number is picked to resettle in America.  You do not know the language, the culture, you have never seen a map and have no idea where the city in the US is in which you will now call home.
I watched each refugee settle into his or her seat, with each one who passed my seat I became increasingly more emotional.  Life comes down to the ultimate birth lotto.  I am blessed beyond measure.

You want to feign starvation?  Perhaps little miss spoiled over privileged fast food eating whiner, you would like to show your video to these Somali refugees?  Sadly, I fear it would have zero impact. 

Even as I write this and rant my disgust with these young American teenagers and the sad state of affairs in the US, I am not ready to go back to Rwanda.  I am not sure if it is simply because I face a daunting next six weeks, full on camps, a trip to the Continental Championships in Burkina Faso (Jock will be in the US so that makes me the Team Director/Coach), the Tour of Rwanda and now a pending trip back to the US in December, our only month in which we are able to take a break. 

Things are good…the film is winning awards, gathering momentum, we are getting more and more support financially and volunteers are appearing from a myriad of countries.  Perhaps I fear the unknown, the next step for this team.  I fear not reaching the current team and new members.  Rio seriously tweaked me.  I wanted it more for them then they wanted it, never a good place to be.  Am I missing something?  Are their fears getting the best of them?  Or the ever-present African Fatalism? 

I think about Obed returning to Rwanda after being in the US since July.  He has seen and experienced so much.  His future is wide open; he can take it as far as he dreams.  I just need to fuel his dream, easy in America, near impossible in Rwanda. 

As I obsess about all of this, making sure all these guys have the shot in life they need to have a better life and worrying about them, pushing them, setting the bar high, not backing down on expectations a smile comes across my face.  I am reminded over and over again by a very dear friend of the new Alanis Morrisette song, Guardian.  Yes, I will always be their “warrior of care”. 

So…that is what I did this summer….the Olympics, Eritrea, Great Britain, Switzerland, South Africa, Brazil, Uganda, Rwanda, the US….everything I wished for four years ago realized.




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