There have been an increasing amount of fleeting thoughts the past few weeks... "It surely can't get any worse."
I am now shelving that phrase because it just keeps coming. It can get worse. It does get worse.
My self imposed mantra is now, "Toss me a bone."
I have been trying to formulate my thoughts, my roller coaster of emotions into something coherent which I can write about, with the necessary censorship needed to protect the innocent and the not so innocent along with my place abroad. Why would I protect the not so innocent? The innocent around them who suffer because of their chronic abuse.....that's why.
This is not a rant about everything that has gone south lately and a whoa is me. It's a lesson in coming out the other side without cynicism, hate or frustration.
That journey has come in stages.
Abuse comes in many forms, outright physical violence running the gamut through silent passive aggressive narcisstic abuse, the kind that makes you feel like you're slowly going crazy. Abusers love this form as it keeps their reputation intact.
For me, I liken chronic neglect and lack of appreciation to a subtle form of abuse. Take my love, my caring, my desire to help, to make your world just a bit better or at least give you a world of opportunities you otherwise did not have, stomp on it repeatedly and you have poked the leopard one too many times. This video sums up what "poking the leopard" means. It's our African sense of humor to explain away the frustration and anger.
In November of last year, the team went on strike over money and insurance. It was one week before the Tour of Rwanda, the biggest race in the country. After a weekend of negotiations, they came back. We won the Tour. Victory...hardly. It was just the beginning of an 8 month journey of lies, demands, bad behavior, disrespect ending in yet another strike. I saw it all unfolding over the past months and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I tried, repeatedly. I worked tirelessly on their behalf to make things right. In the end, they did it again....in Colombia, at the biggest race of their career. To the coach and mechanic's credit, they righted the ship and they finished the race. The race organizers were thrilled by our attendance, our professionalism and were thankful they invited us. We were like swans...smoothly gliding across a quiet lake, while our staff was madly paddling underneath.
That was the final poke. The leopard came out swinging. Anger does not even begin to describe the depth of emotion I felt. My first thought was, "What the fuck, I just wasted 7+ years of my life....gone, wasted, can't get back. FUCK!"
Several days passed with gradually decreasing anger...then the lethargy set in. Why bother, really? In the end their demands consisted of enough money to buy a cow. $500. They didn't see a future in racing. Adrien Niyonshuti was simply lucky...don't even get me started on how UNlucky that man has been. They wanted to buy a cow, farm and get married.
Again...."What the fuck, I just wasted 7+ years of my life...." but now a more contemplative WTF. A friend of mine going through something very similar with a cycling program in another developing nation said to me, "I wondered if it was my ego which was a factor." I thought the same thing. "Was I doing this for me in the end?"
Yeah...no...I am not your "savior Barbie" kind of girl. I actually thought they wanted this, wanted opportunity. I was just opening a few doors. I expected them to ride through them. Then they didn't like the color of the door. It was too small. It was not hinged properly. They focused on the door and not what was on the other side. They couldn't see past the threshold.
Then....sadness, bone crushing sadness. Not for me, but for these rider's parents. These were parents who lived through the Genocide who fought to stay alive to give their infant and unborn children a Rwanda they never knew growing up. These stoic and proud parents, embarrassed by their children who race $12,000 bikes and complain. I wanted to apologize. I still do. Somewhere along the way I had a hand in nurturing these prima donnas. One father raced bikes before the Genocide and after. He wasn't riding a Pinarello decked out in LG and Sidi shoes like his son. I am so sorry.....
I am also sorry for how the original members of Team Rwanda have been treated by this group. My heart aches for Adrien some days. He gives back so much to his local club, his national team, to Jock and I, to all the promising young cyclists. He is a hero. He has done what no other Rwandan cyclist has done. Instead of being treated as a source of experience, a pinnacle of pride and aspiration, he is discounted. I am so sorry....
In the end, after thinking about writing about this for weeks, this is not a blog of defeat. It is about change. Change in how we do things for the future. Change for the new riders coming up through the system. I don't quit. I get vehemently angry, lethargic, sad and depressed, but like in any tunnel, you come through to the light. This has just been a really long tunnel.
I do not know where the future will take some of these riders who remain prima donnas. I hope they enjoy their cows.
A couple of weeks ago, President Kagame hosted a Youth meeting in Kigali. Over 2,000 youth leaders attended this gathering. They are the young men and women who are the future of this country. I took solace in his statement to the youth,
"They called us a small failed state but we refused to fail, we refused to be small we are not small. I am asking you to make one clear choice, the one that costs us a lot, because being big is where we belong."
I will not be defined by the cyclists who cannot see opportunity, who want to ride small instead of riding big like Adrien. The past 8 months have taught me to move on quickly from small thinkers. If they don't get it, they can go ride for a club. They do not get the Kagame purchased privilege of riding the best bikes in Africa. I do not care if you want to be small. You just can't do it here. Next....
I thought I had become cynical, but after reading the definition I realize I really haven't. I still have hope. I will trust cautiously and should my trust be taken advantage of the repercussions will be swift and decisive. There are no more second chances, no more "I'm sorry, please forgive me."
Everyone will work on this team. I tried making things easier so riders could focus on their sport and be the best. In the end, they thought this was Club Med. My mistake.
There are hundreds, thousands of young cyclists who still believe in the dream Adrien is living, those are the riders we simply need to find. The riders who want to race big.
I also believe the women are the future of this sport, not just in Rwanda. We are having an Ethiopian, Eritrean and Rwandan women's camp for the next month. Given less by the world simply because they are women, perhaps these are the true change makers in the sport.
The anger, lethargy, sadness and depression have lifted. If I give up now, I will be playing small and the ones who want to remain small win.
My license plate at home for the past two decades isn't LIVLRG for nothing!