What happens after your racing career ends?

What happens after your racing career ends?

Nathan Byukusenge, original member of Team Rwanda, 2016 Olympian and now training the next generation of Team Rwanda
Coaching Zone Kim Coats

written by Kim Coats on March 20 2017

In 2007, Nathan Byukusenge became one of the original five members of Team Rwanda.  He was scouted by Coach Jonathan “Jock” Boyer at the 2006 Wooden Bike Classic in Rwanda.

Early on, Jock knew he needed to get the cyclists out of Rwanda to race and receive additional coaching in order to grow the team.  Jean Pierre “JP” Van Zyl, a former South Africa track cyclist, had recently started a South Africa satellite of the UCI World Cycling Center.  Nathan was invited.  He was 26, already a bit too old to start a cycling career, but always an eager and committed student of the sport.

JP Van Zyl took fifth place in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics 1000-meter time trial.  He knew the sacrifice it took to make it to the Olympics. 

Twenty years later in 2016, Nathan Byukusenge, at the age of 36, became the second Rwandan to race the XCO MTB event at the Olympics. 

Last month at the African Continental Road Championships JP invited two Rwandans to take part in the Track Championships this week in Durban, South Africa.  We asked him if we could send along Nathan to help these two young riders, who had never even been on a plane, and to learn more coaching techniques.  JP said, “Absolutely.”

Since mid March, Nathan has been the coach to newcomers, Jean Eric “Jericho” and Didier in a sport Rwanda has never attempted….track cycling.  Nathan navigated them to South Africa and has been there every step of the way. 

This is a powerful circle of events.  When we asked how it felt to have Nathan back at the UCI WCC Africa now coaching young riders, JP responded, “A satisfying emotion…. seeing a rider like Nathan, going back in my memory banks and remembering the boy that could barely speak English. At that time knowing that he had so much to learn about cycling, the life of a cyclist, the hardships and victories within the constantly changing cycling scene. I felt proud sitting next him. He has come full circle….. he endured the hardships of the sport. Going to the Olympics! I'm proud swallowing away the tears and realizing that I am fortunate to have him here, feeling proud that he too will be the next generation of coaches and hope for African cycling.”

Cycling gave Nathan and his family a present and a future.  Nathan was always focused on the long term, which is rare even today amongst the riders.  He built a house, married, had his first child, Alex and in 2016 went to the Rio Olympics.  The entire time he made cycling his life’s work.  Repeatedly he has told all of us with Team Rwanda….this team is my life and my future.

After the 2016 Tour of Rwanda, at the age of 36, probably still strong enough to race another 5 years, Nathan retired.  He told us he wanted to help the next generation of Team Rwanda. 

This is exactly what Jock had hoped for years ago.  Rwandans would some day run Team Rwanda.

Even JP understood the “epicness” of this moment, having Nathan in South Africa coaching the track protégés,  “Now I'm watching the Rwandan cyclist like I did in 2007 when it all started for them, a new birth in the discipline of track.  I see the excitement in their eyes, always coming personally to thank me for the training session and affirming the emotion I see on their faces during training. They give 100 % each time, fearless and determined. The natural talent needed is there, attention and concentration that absorbs all the information like a sponge.”

Check out some amazing photos of the training camp in South Africa shot by Andrew Ware.

Through your support you give these riders and their families a future.  This is about so much more than the bike….

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