Cycling has the power to bring people and countries together. Through competition or social rides a respectful bond forms between the athletes as well as the spectators. Respect for fellow athletes is the first lesson learned in racing. Personally I have been humbled in races by men who appeared to be in the wrong category at the starting line. Through the eyes of many, Rwanda and Team Rwanda is the meek looking athlete on the start line.
In March of 2016, after a long, cold and wet training I plopped down on the couch with a hot lunch. While browsing Netflix I stumbled upon “Rising From Ashes”, the documentary about the creation and development of Team Rwanda. The film moved me. My passion for cycling had developed into more of a raw emotion. The film exposed this to me, I was able to identify with the struggles the Team and riders went through. Not on a cultural level, but on the emotional level. From not having decent equipment, to the effort of going to big races knowing they would be crushed. It’s something all competitive cyclists go through at some point in their development. Most importantly, the Rwandan cyclists displayed the true joy of riding and competing on a bike.
After watching the film I couldn’t believe that I had never heard of it before! What can I do to make more cyclists aware? I concluded that it is we, the cyclists, who are going to help Team Rwanda.
We all have many ideas and rarely act upon them. I too was somewhat paralyzed after watching the movie thinking, “What can I do for them?” I wanted to do more than donate money on their website by pressing “click”. I decided I would send Team Rwanda an email asking if I could wear their team kit while racing on the National level in the US. I had already purchased every piece of kit I could from their website. I had a phone call with Team Rwanda. I now had a purpose to racing besides fluffing my own ego and bragging to friends and family about results they could care less about anyway. I was racing for Team Rwanda.
Team Rwanda, from the outside, looks to be a very professional well put together team. What I learned is that Team Rwanda is a very professionally run national team. A few people who have dedicated their lives to Team Rwanda hold the Team together. These people lay awake at night thinking of ways to get fund the team. They try their hardest not to take actions of riders personally, they are on an emotional roller coaster not knowing if Team Rwanda will survive another season. The reason the leaders of Team Rwanda have such dedication is because, through their work and the athlete’s success, they have quietly inspired a nation.
The 2016 racing season was the most successful season of my racing career. I had some really amazing results that I didn’t think were possible just 3 years ago. However, the enjoyment of the season didn’t come from results. It came in the form of conversations with people before and after races. The conversations were always about the kit I was wearing, never about a result. Every single event I attended people approached me and asked, “I noticed your kit, what is your relationship with Team Rwanda?”
I would think, “It’s working.” I’m raising awareness, these people now know about Team Rwanda! Which, by the way, is a better feeling than a top ten result in a national level race! I’m doing my part helping the world see Rwanda is not their past.
Not only did I wear the Team Rwanda kit but I also donated any money I received from race winnings or equipment sales related to cycling. The total sum ended up being close to $4,000.
In 2017, Team Rwanda is launching the Team Rwanda Ambassador Program. We are looking for athletes who fit no criteria other than wanting to purchase a kit and wear it during training/racing as well as donating a portion, if not all their winnings, to Team Rwanda. Team Rwanda will keep a running tally of the donations made by the ambassadors. The athlete who donates the largest sum will be awarded a very special prize from Team Rwanda.
Please join me in my effort to help Team Rwanda raise hope for an entire country and bring African cyclist to the forefront of the Pro World Tour!
Email Kimberly Coats, Director of Marketing at [email protected] today!