To give selflessly to a passion and to do it with kindness, compassion and encouragement are a measure of a life well lived.
Paul Sherwen was that person. With one single call, Jock heard his friend of forty-one years had died suddenly. We are both still grappling with the loss. As we scroll through the thousands of messages on social media, there is no doubt this man was loved by so many. He was remarkable to all of us.
Paul and Jock met in 1977. They were both racing in Europe – competitors. Paul was Jock’s replacement after he left ACBB to join US Creteil. As we recall this memory, Jock laughs, “And he didn’t beat me.” Jock went turned pro in 1977 and Paul followed shortly after that.
Jock and Paul raced the same five Tour de France races on different teams. Paul raced seven in all. Jock five. They stayed in touch via the Tour as Paul was commentating, Jock working for teams or spectating.
Lives went separate ways for a while only seeing each other at races then reconnecting in 2009 while Paul was living in Uganda, Jock in Rwanda. Team Rwanda Cycling was a fledgling team of passionate cyclists, all survivors of the 1994 Genocide. One of those riders, Adrien Niyonshuti, had been signed to MTN, the starting point for the team that would later become Team Dimension Data. Adrien was selected to race the Tour of Ireland and needed a visa to travel to the race. There was no Embassy of Ireland in Rwanda. It was located in Kampala, Uganda, Paul’s hometown. With only a few days to secure the visa, Jock jumped on his motorcycle and drove 521 km to Paul’s house. Paul took him in, gave him a place to stay and helped to secure Adrien’s visa.
Adrien’s first top professional race was the Tour of Ireland. It was Jock’s last professional race. Paul was there to commentate both.
Paul loved the sport of cycling and wanted nothing more to see the sport succeed in Uganda. For all of us, it was a constant uphill battle. African cycling needed more support. That support was never easy to come by. The corruption within the Ugandan Cycling Federation was challenging to work around. We spent years trying to install a new Federation. We got close once. Paul was so proud of Charles Kagimu, the young Ugandan rider who races for BikeAid.
I met Paul for the first time in 2010 in Uganda. I was working for World Bicycle Relief in Kenya and had meetings in Kampala. Jock gave me his number. I called, he answered, and I made arrangements to meet him at his office. Being a recreational cycling geek, I was nervous for days before meeting him. I walked into his office and he greeted me with a hug and asked what I was doing following Jock around Rwanda!
That’s how Paul made everyone feel. You always felt as if you were the only person in the room. That attribute is near impossible when you’re the one everyone wants to be near. You never felt Paul was in a hurry or had other things to do, although he had a zillion things to do. As I read the messages on Twitter, it seemed everyone felt the same way.
I loved how Paul would always speak Swahili with our riders. He always made them feel important. They would still laugh that he was the man from the Tour de France.
In 2013, Jock and I were at the 100th Anniversary of the Tour de France. We walked from the Concorde down the Champs Elysees and right into the NBC broadcast booth to chat about African Cycling with Paul and Phil. Paul never lost an opportunity to talk about Team Rwanda Cycling and the growth of African cycling. We were always on his radar, and he was still our biggest fan and supporter. We all wanted to see the day a black African rider won a stage at the Tour or the Tour itself.
In 2015, Paul’s busy schedule finally allowed him a break to come to the Tour of Rwanda. It seemed he stopped and took photos with every single person in Rwanda, including the US Ambassador to Rwanda. He was something Jock and I would never be -- African.
All of us at Team Africa Rising are frankly, in shock. We feel as if we have lost a bit of the soul of our work. Paul was everything good in this world to people, to the sport and us and our riders.