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Racing for Change: The Joy of Sweat

In the summer of 2021, ISN travelled to Rwanda for the inaugural Racing for Change training camp with the Bugesera Cycling Team, led by former Israel Cycling Academy rider Awet Gebremedhin.

It was a life changing experience for everyone involved. In ‘The Joy of Sweat’, ISN take you behind the scenes of the first training camp ahead of the team’s return to Rwanda in February.

Video: Sjors Beukeboom

#RacingForChange #BugeseraCyclingTeam #Rwanda #YallaISN

— Sjors Beukeboom to israelcyclingacademy.com

Awet Gebremedhin: Embarking on a new chapter with Racing for Change

Awet Gebremedhin’s story is not one you hear often in the world of professional cycling. Today, in a video produced by Israel Start-Up Nation, the former ICA rider tells his story. Raw, inspiring, hopeful.

(text continues after the video)

Video by: Sjors Beukeboom

An unexpected retirement

The decision to retire from racing is one all cyclists face at some point in their career. But, for Awet, retirement came in unimaginable circumstances. At the end of the 2020 season, his third year with Israel Cycling Academy, Eritrean-born Awet returned to Tigray in northern Ethiopia, where he had established a home with his family. Soon after his return, civil war broke out leaving Awet with the difficult choice of returning to his base in Sweden or staying with his family. Knowing that he would lose all contact with his family if he left, Awet stayed.

Months of no contact with the outside world and his mind far from the triviality of training meant Awet’s career as a professional cyclist would come to an end. But Awet is the first to tell you there are more important things in life.

“After two months, I finally had some connection and when I opened my email, I saw that I missed a lot of messages. Some teams showed interest and my work asked me where I was. That made me sad, but on the other hand I was still alive, with my family. A job I can get at any point, but a life and a family you can only have once,” said Awet.

Racing for Change

After eventually returning to Sweden, Awet was determined to embark on the next chapter in his life. But he was not ready to say goodbye to cycling. That next chapter came in the form of ISN’s Racing for Change initiative. In the summer of 2021, the first Racing for Change training camp with the Bugesera Cycling Team was held in Rwanda with Awet leading the project.

In addition to performance testing and bike handling workshops, nutrition and bike maintenance education sessions, more than 50 bikes were donated to the community. For Awet, Racing for Change is a chance to give back to cycling, a sport that brought him so much, and help lead the next generation of African cyclists.

“Racing for Change means a lot. It will change this community. If they work hard, they can change their lives. Racing for Change is what we need here in Africa. That is why I like this project so much,” explained Awet during the camp.

The project’s first victory

The impact of the Racing for Change initiative and the first training camp has not gone unnoticed. Just this week, Aline Uwera, a junior rider for the Bugesera Women’s Cycling Team, won the Kibugabuga Race close to the Rwandan capital, Kigali.

“It was unbelievable to see Aline win the Kibugabuga Race last weekend,” said Awet. “This was a big moment for Aline, the Bugesera Cycling Team, and everyone involved in Racing for Change. This is what Racing for Change is all about. Motivating and helping these girls to achieve success and above all, change their lives for the better. I am sure this is just the start of many good things to come and I’m looking forward to returning to Rwanda soon for the next camp.”

‘The Joy of Sweat’, a behind the scenes look at the first Racing for Change training camp, led by Awet, premieres at the end of December. But first, this is Awet’s story.

— Sjors Beukeboom to israelcyclingacademy.com

Racing for Change – Victory in Rwanda:

“My goal is to make it onto the national team. I hope this win was seen by the Federation.”

It was only a matter of time before the women from the Bugesera Cycling Team would claim their first victory under the Racing for Change banner. Aline Uwera, a junior rider for the team, won the Kibugabuga Race close to the capital, Kigali, this weekend.

The race weekend of December 18 and 19 will go into the books as one of the highlights of the Racing for Change program in Rwanda. Approximately a year and a half ago, Israel Start-Up Nation committed to helping the local community in Bugesera to improve their cycling culture, and today showed another mark of success.

‘I will prove I can win more’

“What a special feeling to be on the podium”, the sixteen-year-old Uwera said. “Being [from the] Bugesera Cycling Team, we had numerous disadvantages to our competitors – one other team had eight riders and we only had three – but we worked together as a team and I managed to win the junior race.”

Racing for Change trainer, Innocent Niyireba, said he was super proud of Uwera. “Winning while racing against a team with many more members than Bugesera this weekend is great. She showed her strength in a fabulous way.”

Niyireba mentioned that for the next race, he expects even better results. “We will allow talents from our district to race with us. Next time, when we also have eight riders on the road, we will be even more competitive.”

Uwera herself hopes to win again in the future. “This victory is very motivating. Since I have been training with the Israeli instructors from the Racing for Change program, I got stronger. I want to reach the national team of Rwanda. I hope the [Rwanda Cycling] Federation saw this race, and I want to prove to them again that I am capable of winning races.”

Israeli trainer Tal Alon, who led the Racing for Change training camp in Bugesera earlier this year, expressed her happiness as well. “This is a great result. The women were very committed during the camp to learning as much as they could. After that week, we kept on working together. We can see from their numbers that they are improving, so it was only a matter of time for them to achieve great results in races.”

Israel Start-Up Nation and Racing for Change

Racing for Change in Bugesera started in early 2020 when the team got to visit the women’s team in Rwanda for the first time. This year, Israel Start-Up Nation went back two times. During the last visit, the team organized a professional training camp and donated over fifty bikes. Since then, the Bugesera district can join rides organized by the Bugesera Cycling Team on a weekly basis.

In December, ISN will release a documentary about the training camp. In February, ahead of Israel Start-Up Nation’s participation in the Tour du Rwanda, the team will come back to Bugesera for another training camp. Uwera’s victory today was proof of commitment to Racing for Change from both ISN and the women of the Bugesera Cycling Team.

— Sjors Beukeboom to israelcyclingacademy.com

RACING FOR CHANGE : THE DOCUMENTARY FILM

Planting Seeds in Rwanda – The Film

 

In May 2021, members of the Israel Start-Up Nation team traveled to Rwanda to participate in the largest race in Africa, the Tour du Rwanda.

But it was not just a bicycle race for the only Israeli professional cycling team that will, this coming Saturday, compete on the world stage for the second time in its history at the Tour de France.

 

For Israel Start-Up Nation, the biggest highlight of the trip to Rwanda took place in Bugesera, a province that is made up of several villages not far from the capital, Kigali, where the only women’s cycling team in the country was recently founded.

 

The ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’, where a genocide took place only 27 years ago, is a land of contrasts. It is a dizzying beauty that does not hide its poverty; a scarred country whose mass graves and memories still haunt its inhabitants. But it is also strongly determined to build a better future.

 

Bicycles are a way of life in Rwanda. They are a means of subsistence, and often, the key to subsistence – a means of traveling to school or earning a livelihood. In Bugasera, only a few of the school’s 1,400 students can afford a bicycle.

 

This was the place to launch Racing for Change.

 

Since its founding six years ago, the team’s vision has always been to change the reality of cycling in Israel and provide an opportunity for the next generation of young Israelis to realize their dreams of becoming professional riders. Now, as one of the largest professional cycling teams in the world, ISN believes it has a right and a duty to harness its capabilities to assist in new areas and spaces.

 

Bugasera was a natural first stop for this initiative. The team came to the village to launch the project by adopting the women’s cycling team, providing them with technical support and expertise, and helping to grant more young people in the village access to bicycles.

 

This 33-minute documentary follows the team’s journey to Rwanda – at the race, in the village, during meetings, and while training with the young riders. This is an exciting and inspiring film, optimistic, and, most importantly, presents the humanity behind the magical dream that sees cycling as an opportunity for a better life.

 

Israel Start-Up Nation will compete in the Tour de France under the banner of “Racing for Change” and is committed to other social ventures in the same vein, including in the areas of bicycle safety and the environment.

 

The documentary, directed by Noam Chojnowski, will premier on Sports Channel 5 in Israel on Thursday, June 24 at 19:30 IDT.

On Friday, June 25 at 18:00 CET, the night before the start of the Tour de France, the video will be screened on all ISN media channels.

— Tsadok to israelcyclingacademy.com