Cycling is more than a hobby for Team Rwanda’s Nathan Byukusenge.
Byukusenge was quoted by AFP recently saying, “I am cycling to make my future, to prepare, to fix my problem in my home, to make my house, for my life. I am cycling for my life. For my family,” the 31-year-old said, at the Tropicale Amissa Bongo race in Gabon.
After all, it was the two-wheeler that first gave him a way out of poverty.
“I come from a very poor family. My mother was working in farms that did not belong to her. She was paid with some potatoes,” he recounted.
“I don’t want that. I want to make money, to be able to buy things, food, clothes, pay for my brothers to go to school,” he said.
When at 20, he was given the option of running a bicycle taxi, he jumped at the chance.
“It was just one-speed. To go uphill, you just have to get off and push,” he said, adding that he could earn up to four dollars a day if he made several trips.
“Cycling is hard but it’s a good job,” he added.
Byukusenge would soon discover the Tour de France on television, a race that made him yearn for more.
“When I was working, I dreamt of becoming a professional,” he said.
In 2005, he decided to take a big step.
“There were races and I asked someone I knew to help me. He lent me an old five-speed Eddy Merckx bicycle. I trained whenever I could. Sometimes I came home and told myself, it’s too hard, I should stop. But after thinking about my life, about being poor, I got back on the bicycle.”
He got his big break in 2007 when the Rwanda federation decided to hold selections and assemble a team.
“There were about 100 candidates and he picked five, including me. I thank God for this chance that he gave me,” he said.
Nathan now earns about 100 dollars a month, plus bonuses.
“With this money, I am building my house. I began in 2010, it should be finished soon,” he said, showing a photo on his mobile phone.
The eldest son of a Tutsi family, Byukusenge lost his father during the Rwanda genocide in 1994.
“I was looking for water for the family in the hills. They (the Hutus) arrived that day. I saw them kill with long knives and clubs. I hid in the bushes,” he said.
“I returned home at night but it was empty. Family friends gave me food and I went back to the bushes. Of course I was scared — they were killing people,” he recalled.
“Five or six days later, the army arrived. The killings stopped. I found my family which had sought refuge with friends. But my father had been killed,” he said.
“Today there are no more Tutsis and Hutus, there are only Rwandans,” he said, repeating government propaganda.
Byukusenge plans to end his racing career in two years.
But he has no intention of taking up the bicycle taxi job.
“That’s for young people. I would be exhausted in two years. I want to do business, driver, work for someone. I don’t know,” he said.