Have you seen the movie about the alcoholic has-been who coaches a team of unmotivated rejects to near victory at the championship game?
I’m reading the True Life sequel. Land of Second Chances: The Impossible Rise of Rwanda’s Cycling Team is a remarkable look at 21st Century cycling in Rwanda.
The story begins with Adrien Niyonshuti, who represented his country in a mountain bike race in the 2012 Olympics. The 1994 genocide struck down six of his siblings, but after the genocide, he began racing on an ancient hand-me-down bike.
Author Tim Lewis deftly covers the history of Rwanda and the personal backgrounds of those involved in this sweeping yet very personal narrative. It’s a complex, messy story that Lewis handles without falling into cliche. He touches on the colonial exploitation of Africa that influenced the horrific 1994 genocide, and the unbelievable grace the victims and their families show today so that their nation an move forward. He dives deep into Tom Ritchey’s story – the man who commercialized mountain biking started out by joining Jobst Brandt on his infamous gravel rides west of Palo Alto, California. Rwanda became his new mission in life after his marriage failed.
Ritchey helped to develop a wooden transport bike specific to Rwandan manufacturing capabilities that transformed the local coffee industry. He promoted a race on these wooden bikes to popularize them for utility use, and that’s when he and his team saw the potential in Adrien Niyonshuti and other promising athletes.
With this local talent and Rwanda’s history of bike racing, Ritchey helped to start a pro racing team with hand-me-down bikes and disgraced former pros.
Some of the people closely involved with the Rwandan cycling team have criticized this book for what they view as an untruthful and perhaps unflattering history, but Second Chances is not an expose, but it’s rather an incredibly inspirational story of real people overcoming some very real failings for a little opportunity, hope and pride in their accomplishments.
Land of Second Chances: The Impossible Rise of Rwanda’s Cycling Team is available in hardcover and Kindle.