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
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, email@example.com or @jasonblevins