Popularly known as The Lion from Africa, James Mwaura is a professional cyclist. His mother, Jane Kiminta, tells us how her curious and go-getter boy from the sprawling slums of Majengo ended up racing locally and internationally
Manuel Ntoyai @manuel_ntoyai
When did you notice James’ interest in cycling?
Just like any other boy, James loved bikes since he was young. His father and I bought him his first BMX tricycle when he was less than three years old. I taught him how to ride it in the house. After he outgrew it, I bought him a bigger bike. He would seek permission to ride to nearby estates.
One day, a friend told us he had met him riding his bicycle about five kilometres away. Other friends also confirmed on meeting him in some far places riding his bike like crazy. This went on until his bike broke down. His younger brother, Alvin, would later save some money. I topped it to buy Alvin a bike. James would sneak out at night with his brother’s bike and come back even before we woke up.
Craziest thing he has ever done?
A lot, I tell you. He is curious by nature. There was a time he put a maize seed in his nostrils and several doctors couldn’t get it. By the time one doctor managed to remove it, he had bled for hours. He once almost burnt our house while trying to cook chips. He would dismantle electronics wanting to see what’s inside. He is one roller coaster of a person.
What is it that you didn’t like about him when growing up?
When he joined college, he started playing rugby. I didn’t like it because he would get hurt. Also, he went into music. His songs were secular and being a Christian family, it did not go down well with us. There is this time I asked him to bank some money for me. Being a Friday, the banks usually would close early.
Since he couldn’t bank the money that day, he requested I lend him some to record a song.
He informed me of a talent search he wanted to participate in. I gave him Sh3,000.
Assisted by his cousin Kimintah, now an accomplished artiste, they recorded a song all night. He won the competition and although we were happy for him, I personally didn’t like him doing secular music.
He has survived death a number of times, tell us more.
At the age of 16, I lost my husband to assassins, an incident that also saw James shot four times. He stayed in hospital for over eight months. Immediately after being discharged in November 2009, he was kidnapped and was found the same night having deep knife cuts.
He survived that as well. Soon after recovering from the kidnapping, he was involved in a road accident along Nairobi’s Mombasa Road. There are other incidences, but we thank God, he has survived through them all.
Tell us about his cycling journey.
In June 2013 he directed his attention to cycling, which by then was his favourite sport. In June 2014, he became a professional cyclist. He got to his first tour in August 2014.
He performed well that immediately after the tour, he got a lot of invitations. He showed a lot of potential. From August to December of the same year, James had won four elite races. In January 2015, he got invitations from abroad. He came back home in March having won 15 races.
What are some of the up and downs you’ve seen him go through?
There have been a lot of fake promises from both county and national leaders. Once he wins, that’s when they start calling. Last year, he was the first ever African to be selected for the world’s most challenging ultimate racing competition, the Red Bull Trans-Siberian Extreme.
He needed facilitation and some government officials frustrated him until well-wishers came through for him. There is also a time James was supposed to compete abroad and the county government had promised to facilitate his travel.
We camped at the county government offices for a few days and they did nothing. He got so frustrated that he came home crying. I told him to be a man and look for another option. Later during the day, he sent me a text message saying that he had been nominated for the top 40 under 40 award and this uplifted his low moods.
When receiving the award, he was nervous on what to say, but I advised him to pray and speak out his heart and share his problems—maybe someone would hear him.
Later after his speech, businessman Vimal Shah offered to sponsor his trip. He has received several requests from foreign countries to change his citizenship, but he would hear none of it. Despite the frustrations he faces here at home, he loves this country.
Your advice to other parents?
Some children are gifted in academics, others are not. As a parent, you have to understand your child’s potential. Keep on encouraging them each day and celebrate their little wins. If a parent gives up, the child will also give up. So, just encourage your child. I also believe in the power of prayers.