Sunday morning began with a 2-hour drive to the capital city of Rwanda, Kigali, from our training home in the Virunga Mountains, Africa Rising Cycling Centre. I was hopeful we at Team Rwanda had done all we could do to promote the event, to get the word out; if there were 30 people I would be happy.
When we arrived at the Rwandan Cycling Federation offices at Amahoro Stadium an hour before the event, under rain threatening skies, I had a pit in my stomach. The crowd was sparse. By 8:30, a half hour before the start, it was still not looking hopeful and the clouds were gathering steam. There were a handful of young Rwandan cyclists, three boys and two girls. Ten minutes later the expats started arriving. Jamie, our Team Rwanda mechanic, was busy setting up the road bikes they were renting for the event. Then a newspaper journalist wanted to take photos. Within minutes there were 40+ people on bikes, men, women, Americans, Rwandans, Europeans all there in support of CycloFemme….in support of women cyclists in Rwanda.
As we rolled out with a full police escort for the 11-mile ride to the midpoint where we would meet up with the young boys and girls from Adrien Niyonshuti’s Cycling Academy, the rain started lightly, then came full on. Such is rainy season in Rwanda. No one turned back, a few crashes happened due to the slick roads and unhappy, unsupportive, mini bus drivers, but we kept rolling.
By mile 6, the rain stopped and by the time we reached the bottom of the hill at the midpoint, the sun was shining brightly off the white tent set up for the planned festivities. I had been one of the victims of the crashes so was bringing up the rear. I was shocked as I pulled in to the lot bloody and battered. There were SO MANY people! The crowd numbered well over 100…100+ people there for the girls and women of Rwanda.
A few minutes later the Minister of Gender and Family Promotion, Oda Gasinzigwa, arrived followed minutes later by the Minister of Sport and Culture, Protais Mitali. In addition to the Ministers, the President and Vice President of the Rwanda Cycling Federation were there. I was humbled. It was a Sunday morning and here was the Rwandan government officials coming out, taking time out of their morning with their families to support and advance the sport of cycling among women in their country.
Minister Gasinzigwa spoke to the crowd addressing them in Kinyarwanda. Although I do not speak Kinyarwanda, I knew she captivated the crowd, she was funny, engaging and embodied the power of women.
After her speech, she handed out prAna tanks and Louis Garneau jerseys, along with the Minister of Sport. Each young woman received tanks and a jersey and stood in front of the group while they were recognized.
My expectations for the event, for Rwanda were high. They generally are because I know the commitment level and passion of the Rwandan Cycling Federation. We are a team and now women are a part of that team. Our President, Aimable Bayingana, has a vision for not only Rwandan Cycling, but also cycling throughout the continent. For the first time in my five years in Rwanda, as I watched the two Ministers I could see they had captured the dream and vision of the power of the bicycle. It had gone way beyond a race team and competitions. They are now the gatekeepers of this vision of using the bicycle to better their entire country in countless ways. It is now a culture of cycling from men’s racing and soon women’s racing, for transport, for facilitating education for school children, for making a living….all of it will last way beyond my tenure here, way beyond our temporary footprint. The lasting legacy will be the men and women of Rwanda who carry the sport forward.