I have been thinking a lot about all the stories, everything that happens in one given day in Rwanda with this group of cyclists and staff. Once again, I find myself in a quandary over which stories to tell, how do I choose the best story to convey to the world. Every story is inspiring and heart wrenching, hopeful and tragic. Every day feels like a lifetime. Every night I collapse into bed and think, “That was just one day?” Every night I think of all the things there are to write about and then before I know it I am on to the next day. As the days mount, my nagging procrastinator voice keeps telling me, “You need to tell these stories, you need to write. Get in front of that computer, tell the world.”
The other day on a long mountain bike ride through the hills of Rwanda, I thought about the Team, the stories and the soul of this team. When I got back to my computer, I looked up the various meanings of the word “soul”. Every rider, every one of the people here trying to keep this team moving forward, all our supporters around the world, all of us, all of our stories make up the soul of this team.
1. The spirit or immaterial part of man, the seat of human personality, intellect, will, and emotions, regarded as an entity that survives the body after death
This Team will survive long after all of us our gone. From the dream of a few, to the tenacity to stay and make a life in Rwanda, to the vision that has been cast and grasped by the Rwanda Cycling Federation, the clubs and the riders at the lowest levels of competition, this team will live on and continue to change the face of cycling in Rwanda and in Africa. At the Federation’s Press Conference several weeks ago I sat in amazement at all the clubs and riders who came out to show off their “new” bikes, all ready to rub shoulders with the elite of the elite, the boys of Team Rwanda. We just provided the access to the donated parts, clothing and bikes. Rwanda took ownership in the distribution and future growth of cycling.
2. Christianity the spiritual part of a person, capable of redemption from the power of sin through divine grace
This team is redemption, the riders, the coach…Max, I. Adrien, mentors Gasore, they are friends at the deepest level. Gasore looks up to Adrien, aspires to be like Adrien. Adrien is a hero to this country, a symbol of all things good from a country where the adjective “good” is very seldom used. He inspires so many children in Rwanda and of course, up and coming cyclists view him as the hope of Rwanda. They want to be Adrien.
3. The essential part or fundamental nature of anything
More and more over the past couple of months the riders have become stronger leaders. The veteran riders, Kiki and Obed, who came to America this summer, are leading the way. To watch them hold the Team meetings every afternoon after lunch, to discuss what went right and what went wrong on the morning’s training ride is impressive. Jock and I sit quietly by as these riders discuss their performance, their good and bad days on the bike. The openness they have with one another, the ability to voice their true feelings safely and to learn from each other is unique to this country. This does not happen anywhere else. This has changed within this microcosm of Team Rwanda life. If someone has a bad day, someone needs something, someone is not happy with their teammates performance it is voiced, discussed and resolved. This is the soul of Team Rwanda.
4. Nobility of spirit or temperament: a man of great soul and courage
Innocent Uwamungu aka Rocky aka Rockstar…our young man who recently lost his right eye in a freak accident. Rockstar who took 5th position last month in the Kigali to Butare race, who was 6th in the Nyanza to Kigali race, the man with the most infectious laugh, one that sucks you out of the depths of a “bad” day and fills your soul with joy. There is no finer example of “nobility of spirit of temperament: a man of great soul and courage”. When the Team was discussing the poor performance of several of the riders on a descent in the rain, the riders in question were complaining. Rocky spoke up and said, “Cover one eye and in the rain it comes in your other eye and you can’t see at all, that is me. Why do I beat you?” Complaining ceased. Rocky takes every single excuse away.
A few weeks ago, Rocky spoke up at the end of a Team meeting and said he needed help. Rocky never asks for anything. He said he had about $100 saved and that Felix Sempoma, the Club President he rides for at the Club Level, had offered to kick in another $150-$200 towards getting Rocky a glass eye. Rocky still needed about another $500. I told him I would put his story on Facebook to see what we could do. Within 30 minutes the Jorgensen family and two others had donated more than the needed $500. That night at dinner we told Rocky….he was speechless. All he kept saying was, “Thank you, thank you, thank you coach.”
5. An inspiring spirit or leading figure, as of a cause or movement
Adrien….quiet, introspective, disciplined, devout, evoking a spirit that fills a room with hope and peace. Adrien is the center of the soul of the Team
6. A person; individual: an honest soul
There are many “persons and individuals” all contributing to the soul of Team Rwanda.
Jean de Dieu “Rafkiki” Uwimana can animate a story and make the team laugh more boisterous than any person I have ever witnessed. He embodies the spirit of storytelling. When Kiki holds an audience, even though it’s all in Kinyarwanda, I laugh. His mannerisms, his expressions, his animation is contagious. Kiki loves this team and this Team is part of his soul. His son bears the name, Jonathan, after the coach.
Obed Ruvogera, Museho, the old man on the team. Obed is observant, quiet but when he speaks he carries the authority of a rider who has been there, experienced the pain. Obed is the even keel positive energy of the team.
Janvier Hadi, a new rider, Gasore’s roommate, his story unknown. Smart, young, sweet and a fantastic rider following in the footsteps of Gasore.
Gasore Hategeka, orphan, quiet, polite, helpful and truly always thankful for everything he has experienced through this team. Team Rwanda is Gasore’s family.
Coach….he came and stayed. He stayed for Adrien in the beginning, he stays for the rest today.
Max…perfectionist, troubled, searching always wanting to be the best mechanic, frustrated every day in Africa always working to stay on track. He is still here two and a half years later.
Volunteers like Melanie Dries and Jessica Niles, teaching yoga and English, doing meal planning and simply making my life a bit saner. There will be a void when they leave after the Tour.
…and me, I’m just one person along for the ride, giving a little tough love and keeping it all close to the vest where it’s locked away until I have a time and place to release all the emotions of the past two and a half years.
All of us are the Soul of Team Rwanda.