Rising from Ashes: A Documentary on Biking and Hope in Rwanda

londonHere’s another entry for my list of movies “coming later to a library near you”—the documentary Rising from Ashes (2012), directed by T.C. Johnstone and narrated by Forest Whitaker.

It tells the story of the formation of a bicycling team in Rwanda and its quest to send a rider to the 2012 London Olympics. Coached by American Jock Boyer, the team includes many who as children had lost multiple family members in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Therefore, Team Rwanda has to deal not only with issues of equipment, conditioning, and time trials, but they also tackle such things as loss, emotional pain, and poverty.

One of the focal points of the film is Adrien Niyonshuti, a member of the team who lost 60 members of his family, including 6 brothers, in the genocide. Since the documentary was completed, Niyonshuti became the first cyclist to represent Rwanda in the Olympics and the first black African to qualify in mountain biking.

Rising from Ashes also features Boyer, someone who knows about firsts—being the first American to race in the Tour de France. He also knows about defeat and brokenness and striving to rebuild lives. In 2002 Boyer pled guilty to having sexual contact with a girl beginning when she was 12 years old and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. That sentence was stayed, and he was put on 5 years probation and spent 8 months in jail. A 2009 article about Boyer in the magazine Bicycling begins with the simple sentence, “The child molester prays before every meal.” It then goes on to give a detailed account of Boyer’s life, his crime, and his work in Rwanda, where he now lives.

Boyer was invited to Africa by the bicycle builder and racer Tom Ritchey, who himself had come to Rwanda searching for meaning in his own life. “To me, Rwanda represents new beginnings,” he told Bicycling, “Goodness, mercy, hope. Rwanda is me. . . . It’s anyone having to work through serious disappointments in life.”

That is the story of Rwanda, not wanting to be defined by the past mass killings but to be celebrated for redemption, recovery,  . . . and champions racing on bikes.

(Kathryn Bertine, “Documentary Tells Team Rwanda’s Moving Story,” espnW, May 8, 2013; Steve Friedman, “The Impossible Redemption of Jonathan Boyer,” Bicycling, January 2009)

[photo from First Run Features]