Snow­less Uganda not a bar­rier to Olympic dream

» His dad was a war­rior. His mother left when he was tod­dler. His home — with six sib­lings in an im­pov­er­ished vil­lage out­side Kam­pala, Uganda — was not lov­ing. But early hard­ships honed a tenac­ity for Brolin Mawe­jje, whose snow­board is fer­ry­ing him to­ward

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Ja­son Blevins

Af­ter a few days hang­ing with the world’s best riders over the week­end at Breck­en­ridge’s Dew Tour, Mawe­jje re­al­ized he has more work to do to de­velop the tech­ni­cal skills and trick­ery needed to reach South Korea’s Win­ter Olympics in a lit­tle more than a year.

“But it’s not a far-fetched dream. I think it’s a reach­able dream,” said the 24-year-old.

Mawe­jje’s drive is in­spi­ra­tional. He spends hours in the gym. He snowboards ev­ery mo­ment he can, train­ing with Utah’s Team Park City United along­side kids who have spent their lives on boards.

“I know if I keep go­ing, it will work out,” he said. “I have that grit. That’s what Africa gives you is grit when you have noth­ing else.”

Mawe­jje es­caped Uganda a decade ago, land­ing in Mas­sachusetts, where he lived with a fam­ily that even­tu­ally adopted him. He saw snow for the first time. He went sled­ding and imag­ined how fun it would be to stand up on the sled. Then he went snow­board­ing and his life changed. “I was im­me­di­ately hooked. I was a lit­tle bit scared. It was nerve-wrack­ing and eye-open­ing. But at the same time it was mag­i­cal,” he said. Mawe­jje just grad­u­ated with an un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree in chem­istry and pub­lic health from Salt Lake City’s West­min­ster Col­lege with a 3.7 GPA. He wants to be a doc­tor and aced his MCATs. “He’s got huge scores. He could get into most any med­i­cal school in the U.S. right now,” said Dr. Moin Salah, the team physi­cian for the Dew Tour. “With his kind of brain and per­son­al­ity he’s go­ing to be very suc­cess­ful.” Over the week­end in Breck­en­ridge, Mawe­jje rode along­side the very best in the world. Re­cov­er­ing from a bro­ken arm, he wasn’t ready to com­pete, but he learned a lot watch­ing pro riders ap­proach the big air jumps and tech­ni­cal rail fea­tures. “I’m try­ing to be­come a stu­dent of the game and use this op­por­tu­nity to see how some of the top riders deal with com­pe­ti­tion and the pres­sure,” he said. “For my­self, it’s re­ally a head game and I’m learn­ing how to com­pete.” Jack Hessler is Mawe­jje’s brother. His par­ents adopted Mawe­jje when he was in high school. Hessler, a se­nior study­ing psy­chol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Den­ver, danced around a pro snow­board­ing ca­reer and his dab­bling en­thralled his African brother. When the fam­ily moved to Jack­son Hole, Wyo., sev­eral years ago, Mawe­jje and the Hessler broth­ers ded­i­cated them­selves to snow­board­ing. Snow­board­ing, Mawe­jje said, be­came a sort of ther­apy. “A way to bury the demons I had inside and be able to for­give my younger self and re­ally just en­joy the mo­ments through­out life,” he said. “And in snow­board­ing you just en­joy the sim­ple mo­ments.” Mawe­jje took the tough-love lessons of his youth — he men­tions beat­ings when his school­work didn’t mea­sure up — and ap­plied them to snow­board­ing, aim­ing for perfection. Hessler said his brother has a full per­spec­tive — rounded by a hard, some­what vi­o­lent life in Africa fol­lowed by a priv­i­leged life out­side a ski re­sort. “I think that’s made him such a good per­son. He re­ally wants to give back,” said Hessler, who hopes to visit Uganda with his brother and maybe help him build some­thing im­por­tant, like a hos­pi­tal. “If he sets his sights on some­thing and fo­cuses on it and is re­ally de­ter­mined, he has shown he can get it done.” Mawe­jje in the last year re­turned to Uganda and la­bored to con­vince of­fi­cials to help him es­tab­lish a na­tional win­ter sports fed­er­a­tion needed for in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion and an Olympic in­vi­ta­tion. While ne­go­ti­a­tions with those of­fi­cials have yet to yield pos­i­tive re­sults — his re­quests for fi­nan­cial sup­port are of­ten coun­tered by de­mands for cash, he said — his meet­ings with the kids from his former vil­lage are much more pro­duc­tive. When he tells them about his dream of be­com­ing an Olympic snow­boarder, he has to start with an ex­pla­na­tion of snow. “You have to de­scribe what snow is then you find some­thing to com­pare snow­board­ing too, like skate­board­ing. Then they start to grasp the idea of idea of board­ing down frozen ice and they are mes­mer­ized,” he said. “It’s all in their imag­i­na­tion. Like it once was for me.” • Learn more about Mawe­jje through his movie, “Far From Home” at far­fromhome­m­o­vie.com. Ja­son Blevins: 303-954-1374, jblevins@den­ver­post.com or @ja­son­blevins

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