Monday, March 16, 2015

Emile Bintunimana

Emile came to Team Rwanda in 2010.  He was tested as a 19 year old and his test is featured in the documentary, Rising From Ashes.  In the film Jock says, "He's one of the stronger ones we've tested today.  He'll get a bike."

Emile has been with Team Rwanda since that day in 2010.

Although Emile was young enough, we knew we were limited with him ever reaching a pro team because of his lack of education.  He's illiterate.  He received a really crappy lotto pick in life. 

In a culture where blending in is preferred to standing out, Emile is a kid who truly walks his own path.  He dyes his hair.  He paints his toe nails.  He is the only one of our riders who has ever broken any bones.  He broke his collarbone...twice...once on each side.  

In 2011, he showed up at training camp after winning a local weekend race with a serious gash in his head and another above his eye.  When we asked what happened, he said through Nathan, he was jumped on the way home by some thugs who had heard on the radio he had won 180,000RWF (about $300USD at the time).  He fought them off and kept his money.  

Emile was a scrappy kid, who is becoming one of the best team players on Team Rwanda.  Emile, along with Joseph, are the domestiques, the enforcers, the guys who can jockey it up on a tight sprint and are not afraid to fight for their place.

Emile has found his place with this Team.

Emile doesn't have family.  His mother, Grace, died in 2006.  His father Alexandre, no one knows when he died, it seems it's been a while.  Emile has most likely been on his own since the age of 15.  There have been rumors of abuse, at minimum, severe neglect.  

When riders come to Team Rwanda we don't talk about their past.  For many it is a past they all too often wish to forget.  We want them to know what is most important is who they are today and where they are going to go with the opportunity Team Rwanda gives them.  That's it.  If they want to talk more we're here, but they know, their past does not define their future.  They are simply Rwandan cyclists all fighting for their future.

Emile broke his collarbone the first time at the beginning of 2014.  He was at home on a training ride and crashed.  We were not in camp at the time so he rehabbed at home.  Not an easy thing to do with no electricity or running water in the house.  He broke his other side near the end of a local race in May 2014.  He came to ARCC (our team home, Africa Rising Cycling Center) and stayed for a couple of weeks.  Within two days he was already asking to get on the Computrainer/Velotron.  Within two weeks he was on a mountain bike on the road.  Two weeks after that he was back training with the team.  He hadn't gained an ounce of weight and stayed fit enough to train right where he left off with the Team.  In Rwanda our riders, and staff, do not have the luxury of having a collarbone break pinned.  We do it old school, immobilize and wait.

In September/October we began our 8 week training camp leading up to the Tour of Rwanda.  One morning as the guys were getting ready to head out for training I look down at Emile's feet and notice his toes are painted a kind of brownish, maroon color.  Never seen that in Rwanda.  The guys laughed and were giving him a bit of a hard time about it but he took it as simple good natured teasing.  That afternoon I said, "If you're going to paint your toes how about painting them Team Rwanda colors?"  I handed him my blue and lime green nail polish.  Never saw those bottles again, however, his toes have since sported a blue base with a green stripe across the top, very french manicure style.  Next thing I see Janvier has two fingers painted, Jonathan wants his nails painted and I'm ordering nail polish from Amazon to bring back to Rwanda.

Emile is not afraid to stand out, to be different and I admire that about him.

This team is his family.  It gives him the discipline and structure he needs.  What he never had.  A few years ago he showed up drunk at Nathan's house.  Unfortunately, he happened to pick the same day the Federation President and General Secretary were visiting.  We received the call.  The next week at camp we talked about it, as a family.  He knew we cared.  He has never had another issue with alcohol.  

Yesterday Emile Bintunimana won Stage 2 at the Tour of Cameroon.  Emile doesn't win a lot of races as he helps his teammates take the glory.  Yesterday he was the one enjoying the spotlight and deservedly so.  

This morning I called Felix Sempoma, his Director Sportif who is running the Team in Cameroon, to find out a little bit more about Emile's home life.  I knew Emile had built a house a couple of years ago with his salary and race winnings from the team.  What I learned today is that house is full of kids he has taken in.  Kids like him, kids with no parents.  They live with him and he helps them because "they do not have houses".  

....and so there you have it....what this team means to one another, their "families", and their country.  Team is Team.




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