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Rwandan Cyclist Gets Ready for 2012 Olympics

Rwandan cyclistIn early February, Rwandan Adrien Niyonshuti became the first athlete from his country to qualify for next year’s Olympic Games in London after finishing fourth at the UCI Africa Continental Cross Country Mountain Bike Championship in Jonkershoek, Cape Town, South Africa.  That is 4th place in the Pro Elite category, the top division.

“Something that started out as a dream when we began to work with Adrien two years ago after seeing him at the African Continental Cycling Centre has now become a reality,” said Doug Ryder, MTN team owner.

It has been twenty years since a Rwandan has qualified to represent his country in the Olympic Games.

For any African to qualify for the Olympics is big news, but one coming from Rwanda is trumpets blaring headlines.  The small, Africa country is most noted for the civil war that many refer to as a genocide.   In fact, six of Niyonshuti’s brothers were killed in the genocide of 1994.   Sports Illustrated April 2011 edition will explore Adrien’s harrowing journey from surviving the Rwandan genocide as a 7-year-old to becoming one of the best cyclists in Africa and qualifying to take on the world’s top riders at the 2012 Olympics.

In 2009, Niyonshuti signed a professional contract with MTN Energate South Africa’s premier cycling team.  Last year, Adrien competed in the Tour of Ireland.   He won his first, major professional mountain bike on February 19th of this year at the MTN Clarens ultra-marathon. His winning time for the ultra-marathon over 113km was 5 hours 45 minutes.

Adrien is both a cycle, road racer and mountain bike racer.  There is hope that the entire Rwandan road team will compete in the Olympics.

See Adrien Niyonshuti’s Facebook page, and Team Rwanda Cycling Website.

Ice Hockey Gains Popularity in Kenya

Believe it or not, some Kenyans are playing ice hockey in Nairobi and dreaming of international competition.

Ice hockey is not usually associated with Africa, but at the Solar Ice Rink in Nairobi, the only rink in East Africa, the players are happy to try something different.

Watch this VOA news report of Nov. 2, 2010.

Running In Africa – My Experiences Part 1

Kenya is home for some of the best distance runners on earth. For sixteen years, I lived among the Kalenjin people, the fastest of them all. The tribal group has given birth to Kipchoge Keino, Ben Jipcho, John Ng’eno, Henry Rono, Julius Korir, Peter Koech, and a pale plodder.

That’s me.

The villagers laughed at me, in a friendly way, as I ran along the paths. Some kids would run behind me chanting “chumbindet, chumbindet” (“white man, white man”).

But I scared some to death.

I’m not just talking about little kids. Sure, I’ve unintentionally scared many of them. They see this white man running toward them dressed in nothing but shorts and shirt, and take off like a bolt of lightning, screaming.  They did not stop until they find a brother or sister to hide behind.

At dawn one crisp morning I started down my normal, Kaitet Ranch course which was a dirt path that twisted around the base of two bald hills. The hills were covered with a patchwork of green and brown corn fields and a sprinkling of huts and cattle.  But none of my neighbors were out yet. Doves and Crested Cranes sang in the new day.  A monkey laughed at me from high up in a tree.  It was difficult to push hard in such a tranquil setting, but I was attempting to better my personal record for the six mile course. When I turned at the three mile mark and headed back, I noticed a woman carrying a basket had stepped onto the road a hundred yards in front of me. She had her back to me.

When she heard my harsh breathing she turned and screamed.  Birds clattered off.  Dogs barked.  I doubled over and laughed loudly between breaths.

The women dropped her basket and ran off the road into a corn field to the left. She screamed, “The spirits are after me.  The spirits.  Save me.”

People, jolted out of bed by the screams, popped out of their huts on the hillside. They saw the woman coming out the other side of the corn field and me in the road laughing. They laughed so hard I could hear them down on the road.

I never saw the lady again. I heard latter she hid a half hour in another field.  I, too, was behind schedule when I reached home.  No record that day.

Another morning I ran down a leaf-cushioned path in a dense forest near my house.  No kids to tag along behind me there.  My only company were the moss covered trees and tarzan vines that hung from them.  I enjoyed the silence and solitude.  I heard nothing but my breath and branches brushing against my elbows.  I scampered down a slippery slope and turned sharply to the right.  In front of me were four women.  They each balanced forty pounds of twigs and branches on their heads – enough firewood for four days.  Their backs were to me.  Before I could warn them, one turned around and screamed.  She threw her load off and started a chain reaction.  She raced past the next woman in line and dodged the falling load of the third woman.  Thud, thud, thud, the loads hit the ground. The women all screamed as they ran off.

“Wait. It’s me,” I yelled. “Do not run. Come get your firewood.”  They ignored me and ran faster.  A minute later I reached the back of the forest. The women were disappearing over a bluff in an open field.

Two days later I ran down the same path.  The bundles of firewood were still there.

Don’t think that I just scare women and children when I run. I’ve scared the bravest young men.

December is the month the Kalenjin people circumcise their adolescents to make them full members of the tribe.   After they are circumcised, the young men spend close to a month in seclusion, learning tribal customs. The major bravery training takes place in the middle of the seclusion period.

One mid-December afternoon, I ran in the forest and came upon two initiates.  Their faces were painted white.  Only a cow shin covered each. They carried a bow and arrows and several long sticks.  They were members of a mock war party in the midst of bravery training.

Initiates who act cowardly during this stage could be defiled – shunned or belittled the rest of their lives.

The initiates stared at me – the puffing white monster in shorts.  Their eyes widened as they crouched, but they held their ground.  I chuckled a little as I passed.

The path was overgrown with sticker bushes in front of me. I lowered my head and burst under their barbed branches.  Twenty yards later I lifted my head and found myself sharing a clearing with twenty more of the cow skin clad initiates.  When the first one turned his whitewashed face to me he howled and ran, setting off a human stampede.

“Wait, your suppose to be brave,” I yelled.  “I will not eat you.”  They never looked back.

I don’t know what they told their elder mentors when they reached the seclusion hut.  But I’ll bet my Reeboks they reported having been chased by a pale, plodding spirit.


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