Thursday, January 17, 2013

Shame on You, Lance....Shame on You, Oprah

Yesterday morning I woke up in Rwanda to another barrage of Lance stories on Twitter, Facebook and plastered all over the internet.  It made me ill, physically ill, you know when you have that little bit of throw up which works its way stealthily up your esophagus until you're hit with that twinge of acidic bile at the back of your throat?  That is exactly how I felt.

A friend of mine from the Outspoken Cyclist Facebook page had posted: 

I think I'm just going to stop posting (and/or reposting) all the articles about Lance Armstrong... too much information. There must be other news... :-)

To which there were several comments of agreement.  One commenter posted a link to the Tropicale Amissa Bongo, the first race of the 2013 Africa Tour season in Gabon.  I seconded his comment as six of our riders from Team Rwanda are currently there competing.  

And then....I took a big glug of water and I got on my bike.  I rode out our gate and down the dirt road with ten remaining Team Rwanda members, some veterans, some newbies and we started our training session for the day.  

I had a lot of time to think after a quick drop by the team on the first climb.  My thoughts circled back to Lance, Oprah and the media mayhem surrounding his "confession".  

I was one of the people who desperately wanted to believe in Lance I am now disgusted at his apparent confession, not to be remotely confused with remorse.  I feel duped.

You see, it's all about Lance and only Lance.  He really doesn't care about anyone but him.  Feel free to disagree with me, it is just my take, my blog.

IF Lance was truly sorry, truly remorseful, he would have stayed out of the limelight and started to put his life back together peacefully.  He would have reflected on the damage he inflicted on the sport, the deception to his fans and most difficult to imagine, his volunteers of his Foundation.  The people who continued to believe in Lance and his work with cancer.  Really it was the people in the trenches raising the money, believing in the cause.  

Do I believe Lance has done some good things, absolutely.  Do I believe he was sincere with some people, primarily cancer patients in his dealings one on one with them, I pray it's an absolutely.   Do I believe he helped grow cycling in the US?  Yes, to some extent.  He got Americans on bikes, we stayed on bikes and embraced the love of cycling on our own terms however. 

But none of the good in the past can make up for the lies and the deception of the present and the current lack of remorse.  

In a piece on the Huffington Post this morning, James Moore writes, 

Anyone who thinks Lance Armstrong's current apologia is more than self-serving is more na├»ve than people who think it's normal to ride a bike up a mountain faster than most athletes can ride one down. Thefederal whistle-blower lawsuit filed by former teammate Floyd Landis has the potential to financially destroy liar Lance. Landis claims in the suit that the U.S. Postal Service was defrauded of more than $30 million dollars by Lance, Landis, and their teammates because they used drugs and blood-doped. If he wins the case, Landis could get triple damages, which is close to $100 million. (His share would be a third.) That $100 million is the approximate value of Armstrong's fortune. He'd be wiped out to pay the court claims. And Landis would be comfortable for the rest of his life.
Armstrong's attorneys are reportedly scurrying to reach a negotiated settlement with Landis, who Lance called a liar more times than he called him a teammate or a friend. They need to work out a deal before Thursday because that's the last day on which the U.S. justice department will decide whether to join the lawsuit.
Lance is trying to save Lance.  Really, that's all it's ever been.
What sickens me most is all the talk surrounding this upcoming interview.  Lance is continuing to get the press he craves, whether positive or negative, they are talking about Lance.  
The world is talking about his upcoming interview and it is consuming every apparent ounce of media when half a world away, everything that is right and good with the sport of cycling is going unnoticed.  The Tropicale Amissa Bongo in Gabon is the start of the racing season on the Africa Tour.  Here is where the European pros shake off the winter cob webs and the boys of Africa give them a race they never imagined.  After Stage 3 there are seven Eritreans in the top 20.  This is what I should see on Facebook, Twitter and the internet every morning.
I live in the country of second chances, Rwanda, everyone here, including us, the ones who run Team Rwanda, have needed forgiveness, have needed a second chance.  But those needs come in their own time, through steady work on self and making amends for our wrong doings, quietly, personally.  We do not go on Oprah.  But then again, Oprah wouldn't make any money from our stories.
I think about it from an addict's standpoint.  To recover, to make amends as a recovering addict you are supposed to personally right the wrongs you have inflicted on others.  Lance is an ego addict of mega proportion!  The people he needs to apologize to are the ones he intimated to keep quiet, to keep his secrets.  He needs to apologize to his team, all his teams.  He needs to do this outside the limelight.  
The only reason he has emerged from his self imposed "hovel"...however, horrible a "hovel" in Hawaii can be....is to be able to compete again.  It has nothing to do with remorse, redemption or forgiveness.  It's about Lance.  He wants to race.  Once again, it's about him.  He's going to point fingers, skate blame and inflict more damage on a tarnished sport all because he wants to win a few triathlons.  Michael Specter from the New Yorker hit it spot on in his blog yesterday, 
You see, Lance wants to compete in triathlons and other sporting events and U.S.A.D.A. won’t let him—unless he owns up to what he did. That’s his reason. He wants to get back on the bike. But he will only race again (and probably not for years, in any case) if he names names, implicates colleagues, coaches, friends—many of the very people he threatened to destroy if they ever revealed the truth about him.
Despite having been spectacularly wrong about Lance in the past, I will make one more prediction: Lance will talk and talk and talk. After all, he wants something for himself, and what else matters to him? Because Lance Armstrong is not a stand-up guy. And he never has been.

Here comes that throw up in the mouth again...
And Oprah...SHAME on you!  I love Oprah.  I will still love Oprah, but she has sold her soul to the devil to apparently capture some much needed ratings boost.  Really...do you need the money, the publicity that much?  When I first heard of the Oprah interview I was slightly hopeful.  With the expansion to a two day interview and the clandestine teaser promoted on CBS this morning by Oprah herself, I am disappointed.  This will not be anything more than a platform for Lance to continue the downward spiral of this beloved sport.  Shame on you Oprah for buying into this sham.
Now...I could be totally wrong.  We will see after the interview.  It just is not looking good.  If I am wrong, my apologies.  I will not be watching.
Here's the deal....SHAME on us, the public.  We will watch this interview like a drive by on the 405 with a 20 car pile up and hovering Lifeflight helicopters swirling overhead.  For some bizarre reason we are drawn to the most heinous scenes like moths to a porch light on a cool summer night in September.  
My wish is no one watches the interview.  Yes, and I still believe in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.  
My wish is we watch the Tropicale Amissa Bongo, oh, that's right it's not showing anywhere because it appears it is not news/sports worthy.  
My wish is Oprah would give the stage to a cyclist like Adrien Niyonshuti.  The number one comment every reporter at the Olympics said to me after their interview with Adrien was "what a humble athlete."
Adrien is humble.  He is thankful for the opportunity to become the first Rwandan cyclist to race in the pro peloton with the first African Continental Pro Team, MTN Qhubeka.  Adrien also goes about quietly helping the young boys and girls in his community of Rwamagana in the Eastern Province of Rwanda.  This year when he came home for the Tour of Rwanda he met with community leaders, the Rwandan Cycling Federation and his supporters in his hometown.  He has launched the Adrien Niyonshuti Cycling Academy, a place for young riders to visit in the morning on their way to school for a good meal, one they wouldn't have otherwise.  After school they come to the center to pick up their bikes for their afternoon training session.  Adrien provides all of this with a few donations and his own personal investment.  Lance meet Adrien.  Look into the eyes of a young man who at the age of six lost six of his brothers in the 1994 genocide and who helped bury 60 of his family members.  Tell Adrien you cheated and helped tarnish the image of a sport where Adrien has placed all his hopes and dreams and those of the kids at his cycling academy.
Lance made more in one day than Adrien will see in a lifetime, yet, Adrien gives of himself to foster the love of cycling and to give the teenagers of Rwanda a picture of life outside subsistence farming.  Adrien gives hope.
Every day I wonder how to get the stories out of Africa into the world.  I want the world to see what is happening on this continent.  The young men and hopefully soon, the young women who grow up racing 50 pound single speed bikes, who live in mud huts and haul water and charcoal so their families can eat.  This is the future of cycling.  
Help me tell these stories....help me spread the word.  I am one person writing a blog from my desk in Rwanda.  My wish is this meager personal viewpoint and rant about Lance, Oprah and the insanity of this upcoming interview goes viral.  If it stops one person from tuning in and not feeding the beast of egos, than it has been worth it.  If it causes one person to check out the Tropicale Amissa Bongo or go to our Facebook page or Twitter, or read stories about Ethiopian Cycling, Eritrean Cycling or MTN Qhubeka then we have a tiny media victory over the Lance and Oprah circus.
So what would you like to see happen next?
I’d like to see this burn as hot as it needs to, for as long as it needs to. And then, once it’s done, I’m looking forward to seeing what rises from the ashes. 
I’m looking forward to writing about riding my bike and joking about bikes and riders and riding.

If you want to see what rises from the ashes, here's a glimpse.  This is the future of cycling Post Lance...say good night Lance.

Adrien with his kids at his new cycling academy in Rwamagana, Rwanda




Monday, January 14, 2013

I Thought Planes Could Only Fly Under the Clouds


Bonaventure is the fourth from the left.  I do not know Bonaventure's story.  His real story.  He is 20, one of the newest members of Team Rwanda and on Thursday he headed to Tropicale Amissa Bongo (Tour of Gabon) for his first international race outside Rwanda.  

Being 20 he was only between one or two during the genocide.  It is only math, not the story.  I know he was born in Rwanda so I assume he was here during the war.  Anything additional is left to wonder.  

Bonaventure came onto the team through sheer force of will and some savvy riding.  He is a member of the club from Gisenyi, Benediction.  I had seen him around from time to time and we had tested him last year.  This summer during a few of our training camps, I would ask who won the sprints during the training session and the name Bonaventure would pop into the conversation.  Bonaventure wasn't part of camp.  He would cycle along the road we generally use to train on during the time the team was training and tag along.  Smart move.  

During an after training debrief session a conversation went something like this....

"Who won the sprints today?"

"Well, Bonaventure won the first one, then Rocky, then Nathan on the first one.  So Rocky won."

"No, Rocky didn't win, Bonaventure won."

"But Bonaventure is not in camp so Rocky won."

"Bonaventure beat you guys, all you guys, so he won, we need to find him and pay him the preem.  Rocky you got second."

When I would ask Kiki about Bonaventure, Kiki would tell me he is strong but he is not smart.  I thought, "He's smart enough to take you guys out during your training ride sprints."

Sadly, the entire team equated Bonaventure's cleft lip scar with a mental disability.  I would never want to be disabled in this country due to the stigma and ignorance associated with something as simple as a cleft palate.  

So that's how Bonaventure became part of Team Rwanda.  

In October he was invited to participate in the training camps leading up to the Tour of Rwanda and cemented his place on Team Akagera.  He was in, Rocky and Emile were out.  

Ironically, Bonaventure has turned out to be one of the star pupils with learning English and racing.  He is starved for the opportunity to learn.  Unwittingly, he has become an example to the team that physical disabilities or scars do not equal unintelligence.

On Friday I was copied on an email between Jock and Philip Gourevitch.  Jock was telling Philip about the team of new riders heading to Gabon.  

"All new riders with 4 making their first trip out of the country, in a plane, seeing the ocean.... The best comment yet was when we were going up through the clouds when Bonaventure pipes in and says "oh wow, I thought planes could only fly under the clouds!" Well I guess he had never seen any over the clouds?! How was he to know?"

Exactly....how was he to know?

Since coming back to Rwanda after a very nice pre Christmas break in South Africa I had been a little "off".  I arrived back in Rwanda the 23rd of December.  Jock's mom passed away the 26th and he was on a plane back to the US on the 27th.  Camp started the 3rd of January and I was on my own.  Not exactly how I had expected to start the year.  Jock came home the evening of the 8th and left the morning of the 10th to Gabon.  I was left to do another camp this week with our brand new mechanic, Vincent.  He's French.  Yes, it is becoming more and more apparent I really need to learn French.

Last week I spent a bit of time with a couple of my girlfriends here in Rwanda.  Dawn is the head veterinarian for the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project (MGVP) and Julie, who founded Art of Conservation.  We did not start the year full of excitement, new projects or resolutions.  We started tired, questioning if what we're doing is making a difference, questioning whether we could keep doing what we do.  Julie's been here six years, alone.  I don't think I could have done what she's done.  Life is not easy here.  There are days.....

Saturday morning I hooked up with Julie to go for a run.  I decided to start running a bit simply to try and wear Zulu out.  I met her at her house and we took off down a dirt road towards town.  Along for the run was Fiti.  Fiti, a little girl in her skirt and green, plastic flip flops from China.  Running alongside Fiti I realized how important Julie has been to this community.  A girl like Fiti might never run the NY Marathon, or represent Rwanda in the Olympics, but she could?  She has hope.  Julie is showing her there is another world out there.  Even if she never is a top athlete, maybe, just maybe her time with Julie and the Running Club of Musanze, will teach her education is more important than getting married and popping out babies like a Pez dispenser at the age of 16.  She doesn't need to work the fields.  She could do or be anything.  She could be a runner in the Olympics.

If I just change one life.....then it will have all been worth it.  Here's the deal.  You change one that one will change one and so on and so on.


Adrien is inspiring not only a nation of cyclists but a generation of kids who haven't seen war, who live in a country that is peaceful, a country with opportunities which didn't exist 20 years ago.

So....Bonaventure.....planes do fly above the clouds.....now you know.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Weight of the Team

This afternoon I was at the Team house waiting for lunch.  While waiting I hear Zulu barking in the back of the yard and Damascene our guard, saying "Zu, Zu, Zu, Zu".  After the 30th "Zu", I went outside to see what the beast was up to.  As I'm standing there watching him pee down every inch of shrubbery in the back yard I hear Kiki say, "Hey, mucyecuru, do you add more kilos?"  

First of all I like to think of the term "mucyecuru" as a term of respect, perhaps endearment.  It means "old lady (with respect)" in Kinyarwanda.  However, in this phraseology spoken by Kiki all I heard was, 

"Hey Old Lady are you getting fat?"  I glared at him with the eyes which could burn through him and cause his tiny 120 pound body to spontaneous burst into flames.

I know, you thought this blog was going to be about something heavy, serious, substantial about the team.  A weighty issue.  Something about the struggles we live through, the rising from nothing of these riders, the weight of the responsibility on our shoulders.  

Nope, it's about how heavy I am on any given day!

I am not writing this blog begging for a little passive aggressive complimenting. It's a fact, we are the fat police at Team Rwanda.  Actually, the riders are the gestapo of fat, particularly my fat.

It all started in April 2009 when I first arrived.  Jock, Mr. Five Pounds Heavier than my Tour de France Race Weight, Boyer made a comment to the team about my backside.  At the time I had been working part time as a personal trainer, working out, riding my bike 100-150 miles a week.  I have always been a healthy eater, alcohol aside.  I was 145 pounds.

I am 5'8" and definitely not a "small frame" kind of gal.  My hands are bigger than most of the team's (not man hands however, much more delicate looking, just super long fingers).  I wear the same size shoe as Jock, Max, Adrien and half the team.  Plus I was solid, I had Michelle Obama arms.  No chicken skin flap under my arms!

According to the weight charts appearing on Google, I was well within the healthy range.  

One chart had the caveat, "Weighing conducted with 1" heels and 3 pounds of clothing".  Ok, here's my question, who has EVER weighed themselves with all that gear on?!  I am buck naked, after my morning "biz", and always after not eating dinner the night before.  That's how I weigh myself!  

Weight Watchers had my range between 132 - 164 which would technically put me very close to "underweight" but I'll get back to that.  164?  Really?  That's what I weighed in college after a year of Big Macs and way too much beer!  I was scary!

The University of Chicago Medical Center seems more in line.  The range for someone 5'8" is 126 - 154.  I can live with that.

But back to the Gestapo Team.....

After a year or so in Rwanda, Nicodem looks at me after a ride and says, "Kim, when you came here your butt, it was this big (note his arms spread wide like an eagle in flight), and today, your butt, it is this big (a markedly reduced wing span, more like a sparrow in flight).  Jock starts laughing.  Seriously, the whole team has been watching my ass for the last year checking for shrinkage?

Mind you, the entire team gets weighed every week when camp starts.  They have to, it's their job to maintain their race weight.  Some struggle more than others.  Extra weight to a professional cyclist is a ticket to amateur cycling at your local crit night.  Gasore has needed to loose 10 pounds since day one.  It is not that he is fat, he just spent too many years hauling potatoes.  His upper body is way too massive.  A couple of weeks before the Tour of Rwanda, he drinks a little bad water, a little projectile vomiting and boom 5 pounds gone, he flies like the wind.  Now, I would never advocate giardia, however, those 5 pounds shaved off could save him 22 seconds and put him 118 meters ahead of where he would have been with the extra weight on a 5km hill with an average 5% grade (this is pretty much every climb in Rwanda).  The same analysis of my weight loss on the same ride would be 50 seconds and 292 meters.  Perhaps I should start racing?!

I am a 46 year old recreational cyclist, team manager and will probably never race.  Do I need this scrutiny?  

Today I am 133 pounds.  I never set out to lose weight.  I just did.  In Rwanda every thing needs to be made from scratch and frankly it's easier to not eat some meals.  It can be a hassle to eat.  There is no fast food, no snacky food, hmmm....maybe America and the rest of the world for that matter should take a clue.  

I told Kiki I was wearing two shirts because I was cold maybe that's why I looked bigger...all I got was an unconvinced, "hmm...ok".

I went home and weighed myself....naked....after a long pee....133.  

I live in the team of the tiny butt.  Every one of these guys has the smallest behind I have ever seen.  One of our new riders is Patrick, 5'10" and 123 pounds.  I think I need to go ride some more today.

Here's the deal.  Every year before I came here my New Year's resolution was lose 10 pounds.  I never did.  I was always between 142-145.  When I moved to Rwanda I did away with two things, New Year's resolutions, they suck, they just set you up for failure and two, the weight.  I never even tried.

I think, based on Facebook posts, people put too much focus on weight and watching their weight and losing the weight.  There are some friends I read their posts and just want to tell them to stop it!  If my every waking moment consisted on what food I put in my mouth and how many calories it was and the portion size and the...and the...and the...I'd SCREAM!

Here's my secret for weight loss.  Find something you love, you are totally passionate about which can consume pretty much every waking moment.  Today I am an hour into a ride, just climbed over 1,500' and all of a sudden I am feeling funky.  I look at my watch, it's 11:30am.  I forgot to eat breakfast.  I had a piece of toast and that was all.  Last night I had a glass of wine and four chocolates (hey, they were from France).  I often times am so busy I forget to eat.  It happens.  

Second, move to a third world country, and finally, move yourself, your body.  Seriously, enjoy the food, a little bit of it and get on your bike, walk, hike and stop stressing about it.  Oh, and if you can hire a team of 15 or so skinny butt African cyclists to watch your ass for a few months, you're golden!



Thursday, January 3, 2013

We're the Lucky Ones...

In April I will have lived in Rwanda (with a short stint in Kenya) for four years.  If you would have told me in April 2009 this is where I would be in January 2013 I would have laughed....but secretly I would have wished it was true.  My dream was always to live abroad, experience other people's cultures, other lives, other places.  Today it is my reality.  

The other day Jock called me from California.  Sadly, he had to make a impromptu trip home.  His mother passed away.  The longer your away the more strange things seem at home.  Is it still home?  He said to me, "We're the lucky ones..."  I think I was talking about the steering going whacky on the Land Cruiser again, complaining about the incessant rain and why it makes the house smell like a moldy tennis shoe and "We're the lucky ones...."  He said we're the lucky ones because we live with a little bit of "lack" in our lives.  Because our viewpoint comes from a little bit of lack, when we do receive it is momentous.  

Being in South Africa, being in Africa during Christmas is refreshing.  I get enough of the American based consumerism frenzy in the name of the Baby Jesus via Facebook.  It's revolting.  If you need to give someone a gift because they will "defriend" you, even if it's your family, perhaps you should rethink your relationship.  

A few days before Christmas I was with friends in the tiny beach town of Pringle Bay, Western Cape, South Africa.  They have three amazing young children.  It is startling how engaging young people can be when they have "lacked" the inane hypnotic trance of television.  I arrived at their home, no Christmas tree, no pile of gifts, just books all over the floor and legos.  I love legos.  My brother was a lego kid....he turned out okay, actually, he now builds things for a living.  The kids took a tree (not pine) their mother had bought, went out cut a few branches off the scrub bushes in the yard, added them to the tree and decorated it with pipe cleaners and garland.  It was spectacular.  There were no presents piled under it.  I am sure they had gifts, but that was not the focus.  There was simple appreciation in the house.  This family has means...it does not lack, but the appreciation for time with family is astounding.

We're the lucky ones....so very true.  Every day I think about what I have done, seen and lived through these past four years.  Life is difficult at times...a lot of times, but the peace and contentment I have spent most of my life searching for is there and I have so much less than I have ever had, but I am richer than most.  I have nothing extra to clutter the space in life.  I live in the space.

We're the lucky ones...if your life is not dependent upon how many pounds of charcoal you can haul to market on your head...you're the lucky one.
If you're a woman in America thank God, Allah, Buddha, the mother earth whomever you believe in you were born American.  You hit the birth lotto, there is such thing as luck and being born a woman in America is it.  Someone said to me (somewhat paraphrased as I can't remember it word for word through the shock)....there's not a country who hates women or blacks more than America.  I beg to disagree.  I do not think Rwanda hates women, but I do believe it is more of an uphill cultural battle in Rwanda for a woman.  

I've never had to carry charcoal on my head for my family to eat.

We're the lucky ones....if your entire life has never depended on riding a bike faster than thousands of other kids to take care of your family and have a shot of owning a mud/brick house someday, perhaps with water and electricity of you're really fast....count yourself lucky.  Patrick and Ephraim, 17 and 16 have only a bike, no education, no money, no one to help them.  They can only hope they become the next Adrien and even then, life will be no where near most of the poorest in America....



We're the lucky ones...

We're the lucky ones....on any given day when my only mode of transportation starts and the steering behaves up and down the winding road to Kigali I am thankful.  I did not have a car when I first moved to Rwanda and that was a bit unsettling....two hours from the nearest big city in Africa with no car?  I'll take the Team Land Cruiser with 153,000 miles on it and bad steering.  I guarantee you my appreciation factor is much greater than someone who gets a new vehicle every three years because their car is just getting "old".  

We're the lucky ones....living in Las Vegas I went to over the top New Year's parties.  Once Cirque de Soleil performed in the pool at the private home where we rang in the new year.  Having Jimmy, Valerie, Tom and Laila with me, keeping me company ringing in the New Year with a bottle of champagne from Duty Free and Fois Gras from France, friends who knew I just a bit sad this year and came to the rescue....we're the lucky ones.
And then days and days of rain and more rain leads to evenings when the clouds break and the sun falls behind the volcanoes and I sit and just watch it without being rushed, without a scad of other distractions vying for my attention and I am truly happy to the core of my soul....I'm the lucky one.

This New Year I hope everyone has a little "lack" in their life so you can truly appreciate the blessings which surround you ever day.  All the New Year's resolutions and wiping the slate clean and losing weight, eating right, working out....just take this New Year to realize....we're the lucky ones.