Adrien Niyonshuti (MTN-Energade) is considered by some to be one of the true heroes of African cycling.
When Niyonshuti tells the story of his life, it becomes clear that this is a man who truly lives every minute of every day. The well-known saying: ‘When the going gets tough, the tough gets going’ is certainly applicable to him.
In his short life of 23 years, Niyonshuti has experienced unimaginable horrors but it seems as if these setbacks have just made him more motivated to train harder and push himself to the limit. He meets life’s challenges head-on and, by doing so, he sets an example to each and every one of us.
The short version of Niyonshuti’s life started in 1994 during the genocide in Rwanda in which nearly 800 000 people (roughly estimated at 20% of the country’s population) were killed in a period of six months. He lost seven brothers.
According to Jock Boyer, technical director of the Rwanda Cycling Federation, Niyonshuti’s best friend, Godfrey, was run over and killed by a motorist while he was riding on his bicycle. Godfrey, an up-and- coming cyclist, was a young orphan who lived with his mentor, Adrien, in Rwanda.
The accident happened shortly after Niyonshuti’s father died 18 months ago from an unknown disease. Niyonshuti lived with his mother in a town called Rwamagana in Rwanda. Adrien has used his race winnings to make improvements to his mother’s house. It now has electricity, cement floors and running water.
According to Boyer, Adrien Niyonshuti is a rider with a remarkable talent. He also has a drive to succeed that surpasses that of most other athletes.
“When I met him almost four years ago, his perseverance soon became apparent. To take part in the Olympics is an important goal for him, but I sincerely hope that he will be able to continue with his cycling career until long after the 2012 Games. Through his cycling exploits, Adrian has become a symbol of hope for many youngsters in Rwanda.
“He won the Tour of Rwanda two years ago and was 3rd overall last year. Not many people know that Rwanda is becoming a growing centre for cycling in central and east Africa. The country is perfectly suited for both road riding and mountain bike riding.
“Presenting international cycling events in Rwanda is important to the country because it shows that Rwanda has more to offer than merely a bad past.”
When talking to Niyonshuti it becomes very clear that quitting on life will never be an option for him.
“I will admit that I have had some bad experiences, but life goes on. If you start feeling sorry for yourself life will simply pass you by.
“The most important lesson that I have learned early in my life, is that life is never only about oneself. Everything you do and say has an effect on the people around you. Having lost most of my family I fully realize that I have a huge responsibility to help support the remaining members of my family.
“This responsibility motivates me to give my all every time I get onto my bike to train or race. I think it gives me a competitive edge.”
Niyonshuti has proven during the past twelve months that he is one of the up-and-coming young cyclists.
His teammates, Paul Cordes and Kevin Evans, are both full of praise for the way in which he has improved with every race. They both predict that it will be just a matter of time before he begins to win some of the really important local mountain-bike classics.
So far this year he has already won two of the four races in the Nissan series (Tyger Valley and Centurion) and he has managed to achieve a top-ten finish in basically each of the MTN ultra-marathons.
On Sunday morning (19 September), during the MTN Zoo Lake Criterium race in Johannesburg, spectators will have the opportunity to watch one of the most amazing riders ever to have raced in South Africa. Niyonshuti will use the Criterium as part of his final preparation for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, India.