Adrien Niyonshuti is an Olympic Mountain Biker for Team Rwanda. He survived the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, but lost many of his family and loved ones. In this podcast he talks about the legacy of the genocide, his cycling career, and the future for Rwanda.
The speech below does not always exactly match the speech
So Adrien, tell us about your life as a child prior to 1994 in Rwanda… Did you have a happy childhood?
Yes I think I had a happy childhood when I was younger; I grew up with my brother, and I I know how to ride bike when I was younger and I had family support and then after the genocide… my parents who were staying in the village where they grew up… and then after the genocide things were so bad, we had to move from the village – and we [went] a little bit into town from where, before my parents were staying is about 6km or 5 miles away – so we didn’t go back there after ’94. And then, then I was… still younger – I was seven years old! And I grew up, and I went to school, and when I finished primary school I go to secondary school. The time I started secondary school – that’s where I started cycling. In 2002 is when I went to secondary school, and in 2004 I started cycling. In 2004 when I started cycling, my first race was through Rwanda, and in 2006 I met Jock Boyer, and in 2007, I come… and it’s a big, big thing for me to do sport!
Wow – what a journey it’s been! I know you were quite young in 1994, and it was obviously very difficult, but I just wondered if you had any memories of that time, that you wanted to share – that may be kind of relevant to how you’ve moved forward with your life or things that you may reflect on – when you’re doing well in cycling?
Yes, well about my memory in ’94… everyone in Rwanda will have something to remember about that because this was a very tough time – because even the young children they’re born and they’re born in ’94 and now they have some memories of the ’94 genocide though they didn’t see it. So for me, and for the generation who saw the genocide, how it starts, it’s kind of a tough thing to say and to someone who’s not seen that stuff – it’s not very easy. An example I can give you now – I’m here for Rwanda – for representing Rwanda… like before I told you – there’s sport in my family, from my family – it’s not like I’m the first one in my family to do sport. So I’m here, but don’t have my uncle who was a good cyclist in Rwanda… I have no chance… I would like my cousin to come to watch me – I would be happy myself to see my uncle or my brother here or together in Rwanda, and so it cannot happen, and it’s just myself. I have to change my mind and work hard to be here to represent Rwanda and to change minds for ’94. So it’s kind of like everybody has something to remember [about] the genocide. Because I’d hope that if all my brothers were still alive they would be together in Rwanda… I remember some journalist asking me, ’Do you have some family coming from Rwanda?’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t have anyone.’
So I think it would be good if I had someone in my family to share seeing the Opening Ceremony and see the event… lots of events here in Rwanda and for the Olympics games, to watch me race mountain bikes this week.
So you’re cycling in memory of loved ones and to focus the world’s attention on the new, modern Rwanda, and the way that the country’s moved forward.
So you mentioned that you became involved in cycling because it was an interest of your family, and your uncle particularly, and things started really taking off for you in 2007. How has your life changed since that time, and since you’ve been a part of Team Rwanda?
Since I started with Team Rwanda, it’s really changed and a lot of… experiences around the world, and since 2007 was my first time to catch a [plane] to go down to South Africa – I went there to do Absa Cape Epic [mountain bike race] and there was about 1,200 people there and 600 on the team and it was a big event and for eight days, so it was the biggest event in Africa – actually for South Africa and a lot of cyclists come – from Europe, from around the world, so that was 2007. The experience I get from South Africa; it was the first time I got to go out of Rwanda with just bikes, cycling – I [competed] for mountain biking like that, cycling, and I came back to Rwanda, and I went to America with Jock Boyer and with my team-mates, five guys to a training camp and we spent a couple of months in California, and we go around the world, just training… and we came back and we did some more and around the world again… it really changed, and was a good experience how things look. In 2009, I got a contract for MTN Qhubeka [African Cycling Team] to really focus on cycling and to get opportunities to do more preparing, and then… just good experience to train and cycling, I did a lot of things, and I know now how to train; i know how to eat properly – if you are a cyclist – well it’s not only for cyclists! Because you cannot train only without eating properly – they go together. And with Team Rwanda, Kim and Jock (Team Rwanda’s coaches) have done a good job because they have team training camp each week for five days, that means the guys – on Monday they wake up and catch bike or bus from their house – some riders they stay far and then they went to Musanze [where training camp is situated]. Some of them they do 100 or 120k or 150k, so for some of them it’s hard to ride for 150k to the training camp and then the next day after is training!
I can say they are doing a good job, Jock and Kim, because the people in Rwanda, they train – they know how to eat properly – they have their natural food; they don’t know how to prepare that food, so this job for Kim and Jock, the five riders in the week, and then the weekends, Saturday and Sunday, and then Monday they wake up again, they’re coming back to the training camp – that is how their life changed for cycling… I’ve seen how my teammates changed I think, they’ve really improved a lot, and then for this year it was amazing to see some people in Rwanda, they win a couple of races in Rwanda – it’s not easy to prepare the race and to take the race.
So it’s been a big learning curve but a really positive experience?
Yes, a really good experience, a positive experience I think for around the world… if in Rwanda, even around Africa… it’s not like that it’s only for me that I get the opportunity in South Africa because we have a big team in South Africa and in Qhubeka it’s about 25 riders so it’s different in Rwanda they have 15 riders, even to know like that – we train for 20 or 25 hours a week and then increase to like 30 hours a week, and without eating properly, without knowing how to recover, so without things like that you cannot perform so it’s kind of like a good experience for myself and for other riders from Rwandan team.
What have been the reactions of the people of Rwanda when they see the team do well?
I think a lot of people nowadays, to be honest a lot of people from 2007… you cannot imagine that since 2007, how improved– the cycling in Rwanda now is really amazing, and really good stuff – the people there are surprised because you can go around the world, and then they’re doing well, they have good results – it’s a very good job actually…
So the people are very proud and…?
Yes, I think everyone… some of them, I cannot say for all of them – you know some people don’t like sport – [but] if you’re doing sport, it’s like you help yourself and you help your life to be longer, and much better to do work.
So do you think it’s important to share your story with others, and if so, why?
Yes I think it’s important to share my story with other people – or everyone, I don’t care actually - I like to share because you know some people will hear my story and find it interesting and some people they don’t care about that – the people around the world have different minds and different things. I like to share with the people my story, because like for me – I like to read books of interesting people in sport, and when I saw how they suffer, they’ve given me inspiration myself, and I say ‘oh if those people get medals, in the Olympics or big events, or those people if they have to work hard, you know they’re training that much – I told you that in the week, I tell myself, no – I still have to do something like intervals but I don’t mind, because I have to do it, because the people, they share history . And if you find someone who works hard, better than you, sometimes you get inspiration yourself.
But if someone is hearing my story and finding it interesting – you know some people don’t care, or some people say ‘oh Adrien you have worked hard, and if I work hard I can be like Adrien’, so I think for some people this will help.
Brilliant, I definitely agree… and lastly Adrien, what are your hopes for the future of Rwanda?
I think my hopes for the future of Rwanda, since from after I grew up in Rwanda… things have really changed quick in Rwanda… they’re really changing quick in Rwanda. If you go around Africa, and you go back to Rwanda – you see how Rwanda has improved – every day they improve, they’ve really improved for a lot of things you know for a lot of things, like for sport. I talk about sport because it’s one of the things I do, and I think even for business and for a lot of things I think that Rwanda has really improved for everything and it’s very nice for my country. Some countries they never get a problem like in Rwanda – there are still a lot of problems inside their country – but in Rwanda now I think for me it’s much better than it was and everything is easier. You can go into Rwanda from Kanombe [Kigali International Airport], after you get your stamp you don’t need your passport, you don’t have to carry your passport all the time – you don’t have anyone who asks for your passport or your ID or stuff like that, so I think that is a change, because I hear before it was not like that, and in some countries in Africa, you cannot get freedom like that – so they’re very good things to hear for the people. And the government, they tell people they should come to Rwanda and see the change. A lot of people they know Rwanda from bad stuff and past times and now in Rwanda there is some good stuff - you can tell it around the world.
Fantastic. So Rwanda has improved a lot, it’s just getting better.
Yes, it keeps getting better and a clean country and I think it’s good.
Brilliant, thank you very much Adrien.