IN a world full of evil, the Genocide is the worst human catastrophe that can happen to mankind, and for Adrien Niyonshuti, Rwanda’s top ranked cyclist, the month of April always brings back painful memories of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi where he lost six brothers and other extended family members.
Born in Rwamagana in 1987, Niyonshuti remembers vividly how as a six year old boy his elder brothers had to hide him in the ceiling to escape being slaughtered by the ‘Interahamwe’.
“My brothers could not take the risk of fleeing with me because I was very tiny and sick at the moment yet escaping the Interahamwe meant running for long distances which I could not do at the time.
So my elder brothers, father, mother and a few older cousins left me behind with two of my cousins hidden in the ceiling and ran away to deflect attention from our home where we were hidden” the 23-year-old recounts of the hallowing experience as if it were a Hollywood horror movie.
After two days hidden in the house without anything to eat, some elders in our village came to our rescue and it took me another three weeks to reunite with my parents, the only survivors in our family,” Niyonshuti painfully recounts.
This is the first time the team Rwanda rider has not come home for the mourning period.
Despite those traumatic experiences, the youthful rider has managed to make a career in cycling having recently renewed his contract with South African club MTN Energade.
Niyonshuti began amateur cycling at the age of 16 in his native Rwanda. In 2003, he caught the eye of former professional cyclist, Jonathan Boyer.
Boyer, who is also the first American to compete in the Tour de France, was working on a project to import cargo bicycles at the time.
After assuming the role of coach of the Rwanda national cycling team, the American wasted no time in bringing Niyonshuti on board.
Niyonshuti had good initial results in local races such as the Tour of Rwanda, in which he finished in the top ten five years in a row before eventually winning the 2006 and 2008 editions.
In 2008, Niyonshuti attended the Africa Continental Centre Training Camp in South Africa, where he was offered a contract by Douglas Ryder, the Director of Sports of UCI (International Cycling Union) Continental Team MTN Energade.
Last year Niyonshuti made history when he became the first Rwandan to ride alongside cycling greats such as seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong and ten- time Tour of Ireland winner Mike Cavendish in the UCI European road race-tour of Ireland.
Cycling in Rwanda has made huge strides in the last few years with many young riders cropping up and impressing in continental competitions. The sport has also been used as a tool for unity and reconciliation.