While American professional cycling was losing its soul in the lure of money and performance enhancing drugs, Rwandan cyclist Adrien Niyonshuti kept his eyes on the road, grateful to be alive. With a country shattered by unspeakable violence cheering him on, he pedaled against the gale-force winds of memory, all the way into the Olympics.
I have vivid recollections of watching the news as the genocide in Rwanda unfolded. Like most Americans at the time, or still today, I couldn’t have pointed to the country on a map. The film “Hotel Rwanda,” with Don Cheadle in the unforgettable leading role, brought the horror a little closer to home for many of us. Still I shudder to think how little I know about the history and peoples of Africa—the “cradle of humanity,” as my fellow blogger Rosemary reminds us, with deep affection for her country. Of course it is wrong that our image of “Africa” is too often defined by terrible suffering alone, and too little by its wonders, the sheer magnificence and diversity of its natural, geographical, and cultural landscapes.
Yet the story of the “impossible rise of the Rwandan cycling team,” the subtitle of a new book by journalist Tim Lewis, is truly a story of light breaking forth from near total darkness, of hope rising from soil sodden in blood, from a land that was, by all rational accounts, God-forsaken.
But the spirit of God rises, it seems, precisely in and from such broken places. Hope sparks in the heart of a young boy named Adrien, his whole family massacred, who emerges quietly but fiercely, one pedal stroke at a time, from the valley of the shadow of death.
Reading Adrien Niyonshuti’s story might make you shake your head in wonder, as it did for me, at the miracle that is the human spirit rising. (And secretly embarrassed that I haven’t yet managed to skip the car and trek the 2 miles to work on my bicycle.)
As I pondered the story, I thought of my brother-in-law Rob—Uncle Rob to my adoring kids—who has spent about half of his adult life on a bike, including tours in Europe and across the United States. I remembered how heartbroken Rob was, and is, by the fall from grace of his longtime inspiration, Lance Armstrong. I also thought of the many stories Rob has shared with us, moments of unexpected generosity, spontaneity, and friendship he has shared with people everywhere, strangers and close friends alike, while riding a bike.
(Encounters that cannot happen when you’re behind the wheel of a car.)
Take heart, Uncle Rob. You were right all along! Hope rides—and rises again!—on a bicycle.