Her friends in the cycling community know Fatima Deborah Conteh as Debby. She is from Makeni, about 190kms east of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Looking at her social media, you know she loves selfies and cycling. She is strong, self-confident, and driven to become a professional cyclist. Thanks to a new women’s development team in Europe in 2022, Debby may be one of three African women cyclists racing next year. Her mentor, Karim Karama, a young man who started the Tour of Lunsar and Lunsar Cycling Club, helped her apply and lobbied to include her on the shortlist.
Debby is one of seven children. Her mom passed away after the Ebola outbreak when Debby was a teenager. Her dad remarried; however, her father and stepmother do not support her dream to become a professional cyclist. When Debby talks about her mom today, the tears flow; her mother’s death left a gaping void in her life.
When you ask Debby why she wants to become a professional cyclist in Europe, she will tell you because she wants to represent her country. Next year, she will be the first and only Sierra Leonean professional cyclist in the women’s peloton. How do you dream about something you’ve never seen anyone in your country accomplish?
She was the 2018 winner of the women’s edition of the Tour of Lunsar and placed second in the Tour in 2021. Debby has never raced outside her country. She has every single imaginable barrier and obstacle in her path. To get young cyclists to the start line in Europe is not about simply talent. This journey is not measured merely in miles.
To apply for her visa, Debby had to fly to the closest Embassy in another West African country. On Monday morning, she went to her appointment after a late-night flight into Accra, Ghana. Today Debby is still in Accra, waiting hopefully for the Embassy to issue her visa. Fortunately, through the support of Team Africa Rising and our trusted network of friends and colleagues, she has a safe space to stay while she waits for the one stamp that will decide the trajectory of her life.
Although the new race team will reimburse her for the cost of the visa itself, this is actually the least of the expenses in obtaining the visa. The costs include a US$655 flight from Freetown, Sierra Leone, to Accra, Ghana. There are COVID-19 tests to and from each location resulting in another US$360. She then needs money for basic traveling expenses and food. If she cannot pick up her visa tomorrow, there will be flight rebooking fees, and more waiting.
Team Africa Rising exists to help facilitate these once-in-a-lifetime dreams of cyclists who don’t have money, families with money, credit cards, or access, or the ability to travel freely like Americans and most Europeans.
If you would like to donate to Deborah’s journey, to African women’s cycling or to Team Africa Rising we would greatly appreciate the support. Click here to donate.