John Mwangi has perfected the art of cycling since he was seven years old. Now a professional biker, he is also a tandem rider for renowned blind rider Douglas Sidialo
For John Mwangi, life is a beautiful ride. Literally. Riding is something he has been doing since he was a young boy. His was love at first sight with the two-wheeler…compelling him to end a standing love bout with football, in the process earning him some tough lashing from his team mates. “My friends and I were playing football at home.
And in not so distant place a man rode his bike by and this caught my attention. I cannot remember drifting off in awe and admiration as I unconscioulsy ditched the game and followed the rider.
Our opponents won and my team mates came for my jagular,” remembers the 21-year-old professional cyclist. Now a tendem rider for renowned former Kenya National Paralympics Committee chairman and peace and justice crusader Douglas Sidialo, who became blind following the bombing of the US Embassy in Nairobi in 1998, Mwangi has seen his love to cycle achieve unending feats. After the incident on the pitch, his mum bought him his first bike.
“I don’t know how much it cost her, but I was so happy and thanked her a million times. It was just exciting riding along the streets with my friends,” he says. At seven years old, Mwangi started practising on his bike, becoming a professional cyclist at the age of 10. Since then, he has been named Kenya’s junior cycling champion in 2010, 2013 and 2014.
Passionate about biking
But though Mwangi is a champion in his own, he and Sidialo have competed in many races in Kenya and across borders. Mwangi met Sidalo four years ago when Sidalo was looking for a pilot for his tandem bicycle, after his former pilot broke his leg. And he put his faith in him, appointing him to be his eyes.
In 2015 Sidialo became the first blind rider to complete the nine-day Old Mutual joBerg2c. While the pair did not earn a place on the winner’s podium, their triumph over adversity and injury was a fitting tribute to the power of the human spirit.
Many would remember the emotional scenes, tears, hugs and high fives as the team made it to the finish line. The team had taken a tumble in the first 10 kilometres of the 900-kilometre stage, with Mwangi breaking his collar bone.
“Though I was in pain, I could not imagine that the accident would make us fail to complete the race as it would deny Sidialo the opportunity to accomplish his mission,” he says. Their journey together has been built on trust for each other, which has developed into a strong friendship. The two call themselves ‘Seeing is Believing’.
“Though often considered whimsical, a tandem bicycle is difficult to ride if the two riders don’t work together. It was not easy for me at first getting used to the tandem bicycle as I am a single back cyclist. But I overcame the challenges. We encourage each other and there is a strong friendship between us, which helps when we cycle,” he says.
Sidialo, Mwangi says, gives him the biggest inspiration to press on pointing out that despite his condition, he has always put a brave face. “I feel proud to be associated with such a person because I determine his success. This gives me the morale to work extra hard to avoid disappointing him,” he says.
He adds that accidents like the one that occurred in 2015 always weigh him down. “If we get in an accident, I feel, being his eyes, I should have avoided it. I feel I’m responsible of taking care of him.
I celebrate his victory. His success is my success,” he says Mwangi enjoys great support from his family who motivates him to move to greater heights.
“My mum is always happy when I make an accomplishment and encourages me to do even better and remain the best,” he notes. The youngster says he would like to focus on his career before starting a family as cycling requires a lot of time and commitment.
For now, he has his eyes on becoming a World Champion, especially in his favourite extreme downhill racing, even as he pilots for Sidialo.
“I am still young and I would like to focus on my work. Cycling is tasking and consumes a lot of time, especially when we are preparing for a race,” he says.