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.
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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.