Review: Rising From Ashes

Those of you who bike, and I mean Bike, know that you cannot become a true cyclist without suffering. The contradiction in this is that that through that suffering one also finds healing. It’s a little like the Caamora ritual the giants use in Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books. (Sorry couldn’t help letting my geek self out there for a moment.)

Rising From Ashes is a documentary about the formation and development of the Rwandan Cycling Team. The team was conceived of by Tom Ritchey in 2005. If you don’t know that name, you need to look at the history of mountain biking, because he is one of the three people who started mountain biking. (You can just click on the conveniently supplied link. You are welcome.) Tom enlisted his friend Jonathan “Jock” Boyer to become the coach of the team. Again if you do not recognize that name click on the link. Jock was the first American road cyclist to race in Europe.

I am going to skip a report on the events detailed in the movie. The problems and successes that are detailed. Those are all worth while parts of the movie. I am doing that, because you should see how the story unfolds and where this story takes them for yourself.

But more than that I am skipping those details because at its heart, the story of Team Rwanda is a story of redemption and healing. It is a story of using the bike to heal wounds, physical and mental, on a personal and national level. And for me this is where the story really works.

In case you missed it, Rwanda was the scene of a genocide that rivaled any in history (yeah including the genocide during WWII). Over a million people were killed in just about three months. Anyone who watches this movie should be warned that the movie does discus and show images from that time. It’s hard to watch and you may not find the material (as well done as that section of the movie is) appropriate for everyone.

Like I say, this movie is about redemption and healing, and it works on two levels.

The obvious level is to the story of the Rwandan riders and country. The riders on the team were children when the genocide occurred. All of them were touched by those events, in some cases they lost most or all of their family members in those acts.

On a second level this story of redemption and healing is about Jock himself. After leaving professional cycling Jock was convicted of lewd behavior with a minor and was sentenced to a year in jail and five years or probation which ended in 2006. Tom approached Jock to come develop and coach Team Rwanda because he felt Jock was a good coach and in need of a second chance.

What I really liked about this movie was learning about the people and watching their progression over a span of six years.

Jock starts out not caring about Rwanda, and admittedly not even really knowing about the genocide. He goes for a month to assess the riders for his friend Tom. When he starts working with the riders he begins to make connections and agrees to stay on to form a team.

About midway through the process Jock comments:

“Adrien (the top Rwandan rider) rides a bike because his past haunts him. When I think of it now, I got out of jail and got on my bike. It gives you time to think.”

You can see, no more than that you can feel, the connections being built. One of the most poignant moments came when Adrien and the other team members are concerned that Jock is going to leave them. In their experience people come and stay for a year or two and leave to return home. Jock talks about his father and his father’s leaving of the family. You see that his commitment to the Rwandan team is strong, real and heartfelt.

The other thing I really liked about the movie was the video footage from Rwanda. It was inspiring to see the riders being mobbed by admiring kids, to see the parents and families of the riders and to see the joy that they have in each other. I am sure that Rwanda has its issues, but I find hope in those images.

What I didn’t like? Well I wanted to see more races and hear about their results. Sorry, that’s just the racer in me wanting to know. But I guess that’s not the point and in the end I am OK with that. (And yes I did Google search to find some key results.)

At the end of the movie Jock says:

“No matter what you do in life, if you have done something like this, you have done something of value.”

Is Jock talking about what he has done for the members of his team? Is he talking about what the members of his team have done for him? Is he talking about what the Team has done for Rwanda? I think he realizes while he is saying it, that he is talking about all of those things.

If you are interested in learning more you can find Team Rwanda here.

(BTW Netflix has the movie available for streaming and on disk.)

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