It Takes a Village

Most of you who follow African cycling and the challenges and obstacles we face on the continent will not be surprised by the following story. What you may not fully understand and appreciate is the deep love for the sport. This is coupled with the commitment of ordinary people to make sure every African cyclist gets the opportunity they deserve in the sport.

African Women Headed to European Racing

On December 19th, a few days before Christmas, a women’s UCI Continental development team announced its roster of cyclists for the team. All of us at Team Africa Rising and our partners were thrilled by the announcement of four Black African women to the team. This is a significant breakthrough moment. We knew about the Ugandan woman, which we had been sitting on for months. We were literally bursting at the seams to announce to the world the first professional Ugandan female cyclist. 

The other woman, a Rwandan, we also knew was going to stay on board. She’s had a consistent few years with the team, and this will be her “make it or break it” year. The other woman from Nigeria also hit a first as a professional Nigerian female cyclist. The final woman already has considerable experience. She raced with the UCI in Switzerland for the past three years. Prior to that, she raced with the UCI World Cycling Center South Africa. This remarkable young woman was a teenager when she was invited to Team Africa Rising’s first international women’s training camp at the Africa Rising Cycling Center, which we built in 2014.

Once the announcement was made public, I messaged the Team Director to congratulate him and thank him for taking on the challenges unique to Africa’s developing cyclists. He thanked me and mentioned having visa issues with some of the African cyclists. Not surprising. This is our world. I asked him if there was anything I could do to help. After a decade-plus on the continent, TAR has a strong network of support within government entities.

“The best would be for me at the moment to have somebody who can fly from Nairobi to Addis Ababa tomorrow with the documents for this rider. She sent her passport to Kenya to an embassy by mistake.”

There was no time. DHL was not an option. Do I know anyone in Nairobi who can fly to Addis tomorrow? 

Call to Nairobi

Hmmm…..I do. Let me make a call.

I worked as the interim Country Director for World Bicycle Relief in 2010-2011. I was so fortunate to have one of the most amazing women working with me – Joyce Ndugu. She was my right hand (and my left). Joyce helped me navigate some of the most challenging situations I experienced selling and delivering bikes for WBR. I haven’t seen Joyce since 2011, but we stay in touch on social media. Her young son, Benjamin, who we took to the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust to see elephants, is now a young man towering over us both. 

I messaged Joyce, and within minutes she responded. I asked if I could call and ask her something. Within minutes we were chatting away like 2011 was yesterday. 

“So, this is what’s happening,” I explained, telling her the story of the documents that needed to go from Nairobi to Addis. “Would you be interested in flying to Addis to deliver them? Tomorrow?”

“Oh, Kim,” she sighed. “My passport is currently to be renewed. I don’t have a passport at the moment.”


“But my husband has one,” she mentions.

I have never met her husband. It’s five days before Christmas, “Can he go? Is he off work?”

I trust Joyce with my life, so I know I can trust her husband. Thankfully. We have run out of options. If this paperwork doesn’t make it to Addis, this rider’s entire career could go up in flames before her first professional race.

Flight to Addis

Within the hour, I created a WhatsApp group, and I let the Team Director, Joyce, and her husband hammer out the details. This is what Team Africa Rising does…. we make things happen when hope hangs in the balance.

On Thursday, December 21st, Joyce’s husband got on a plane and delivered the documents. He spent the night in Addis and turned around the next morning and boarded a flight back to Nairobi. The rider submitted the paperwork in Addis, and the documents were accepted (they generally don’t take documents if things are not in proper order). Think, no news is good news.

The Team Director sent a message on December 22nd, the Friday before Christmas. 

“I would like to express a BIG thanks to all of you involved to make this happen! And an African female cyclist can pursue her dream to race bikes! Many many thanks!”

This is the power of the African “community.” Even without knowing anything about this world of cycling, two Kenyan friends went out of their way to help an American and a European change the life of a young woman from Ethiopia.