Words: Hannah Troop
Back in 2009 when Kimberly Coats stepped onto Rwandan soil, I imagine the thought of creating an all African pro-women’s cycling team was not even a wisp of a dream. Yet seven years down the line, here she is talking animatedly about this project, with as much gusto as I imagine she had when she first packed-up life in America to tick off three life goals: to travel, to help people, and to do something with cycling. This she describes as her ‘mid-life crisis’. Only planning on staying for three months, she still finds herself devoting her time – and basically her life – to this incredible cause.
Having spoken with Coats a couple of times, it’s clear that unwavering passion has been the nourishment needed to get her through—there were many hurdles to overcome. Whenever countries such as Rwanda, Ethiopia or Eritrea come up in conversation, it’s hard to steer the mind away from the politics and devastation, so deeply etched in their history books.
“I keep thinking—this is not the politics that you read about”
Coats describes that what we hear in the media often misses the stories that bring brightness to this area of the world: “You read about the struggles between Eritrea and Ethiopia and everyone knows Rwanda’s history, but last week when the Ethiopian girls left [the Rwandan training camp] a week earlier than the Eritrean women, they were all hugging and crying, and I keep thinking—this is not the politics that you read about”.
In fact, these training camps are a chance for the women to come together and share knowledge, Coats elaborates: “The women in Eritrea are the most experienced. In Rwanda we have one great cyclist, Jeanne D’Arc but she really needs to be around other women who have more experience, they all do”.
I ask how the idea of creating an all African women’s UCI team started out: “Over the last year I’ve watched the level of women’s cycling come up [in Africa], but there’s just no races on the continent. I thought to myself—it’s time to get these women out there, they can race competitively, just like the guys, but they just need the opportunity.”
Coats has worked with Jock Boyer (Team Africa Rising Coach) to bring the project to fruition. They’ve also had the assistance of Isabel Fernandez, who works for the UCI organising the Olympic road races. With funding a constant struggle, this feels like a last chance saloon: “One of the reasons I’m setting up this women’s team, is to kick Rwanda out of the nest, figuratively speaking, and for them to stand on their own two feet” Coats says.