By James Bakama
BROLIN Mawejje is only 20 but he is already setting records.
The US based athlete is set to become the first Ugandan to compete at the winter Olympics. He already has two US titles to his name and was recently named among the top ten blacks in snowboarding.
Snowboarding is an ice sport that involves descending a slope that is covered with snow while standing on a board attached to a rider's feet, using a special boot set onto a mounted binding. It became a Winter Olympic Sport in 1998.
Mawejje specializes in slopestyle, a new snowboarding event at the Olympics. Slopestyle has competitors performing tricks while descending a course, moving around, over, across, up, or down terrain features.
To win a slope-style contest one must pick the best and most difficult line in the terrain park and have a smooth flowing line of tricks performed on the obstacle
Mawejje recently returned to Uganda for the first time since 2004 to not only reunite with his family, but also shoot a film “Far from home”. The film is about Mawejje's rise from a youngster in Makindye to a star in the US.
Mawejje, who is eyeing a medal at the 2018 winter Olympics, is hitting headlines not only because of his athletic prowess, but also his unique story.
Winter sport is largely a white affair. Blacks are mainly drawn to more physical disciplines like athletics, boxing and football. It's this stereotype that this lean athlete set out to disprove.
“Many people in the US had this belief that people of some ethnicities couldn't do certain things. I had to prove them wrong,” said Mawejje. Nine years after arriving in the US, Mawejje is leaving his dream.
So, how did get drawn in the sport. “I was introduced to snowboarding during an after-school program in Massachusetts that would take students to a local hill, Nashoba Valley. It was a way for me to try new things in middle school once I started to understand the American culture.”
But stardom did not come easily. As an eleven year old arriving in the US in 2004, Mawejje had to deal with cultural shock. Then, he also couldn't properly relate with his mother, who had left him aged two in Kampala.
“Mum was always too busy,” recounts Mawejje of the times with his mother in Boston. He had to go through periods of depression and loneliness before he struck friendship with a schoolmate Phil Hessler.
His bond with Phil that involved a lot of football was later to turn his life around. The Hessler's took him on as part of their family. He shifted with the family from Boston to Jackson Hall, Wyoming and later Utah.
“I am very appreciative to the Hessler family. “They've helped me stay on the right path. Many kids lose direction and end up in things like drugs. The Hesslers have been very kind.”
Phil, who came to Uganda with his mother Sandy Hessler, is the producer of Mawejje's film while Galen Knowles is the director. Phil and Galen accompanied Mawejje to Uganda.
Brolin shows of some of his skills on a skateboard. Photo by Michael Nsubuga
Most athletes at this level are not seriously into academics. That's not the case for Mawejje who is also shinning in class.
The Westminster junior has just wound what he describes as the most difficult year at college with a 3.8 GPA. The top grade is 4. He is confident his excellent will win him a place at the prestigious Havard University. His dream is to become a neural surgeon.
Mawejje is confident he would have been Uganda's sole flag bearer at next year's Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. But he missed the qualifiers because of academics. He will nevertheless travel to Sochi to follow the games.
He is confident of making the final at the next games. “I have put in a lot. So, I should be able to make Uganda proud.”
Mawejje hasn't lost touch with his mother. He regularly goes back to Lincoln, Massachusetts to stay with mother and two sisters. These re-unions have helped him keep a good grasp of native language Luganda.
His return from the snowy mountains in the US to Uganda has had quite an effect. “This is very good climate. It's like Hawaii,” says Mawejje who was a little nervous before reuniting with his Kampala family. His dad Peter Mawejje, a businessman, resides in Makindye.
The sportsman in him has drawn him to a girlfriend who is also into sports. Brookerice is a soccer player for the University of Colorado.
After his studies, he wants to return to Uganda and practice medicine. “I have been blessed. That will be the time to give back to society.”
For now, Mawejje's main target is Olympic glory. Uganda has previously only featured at Winter Paralympic Games, with the participation of Tofiri Kibuuka.
Kibuuka competed in cross-country skiing at the Winter Paralympics at the inaugural edition of the Winter Paralympics in 1976 and again at the 1980 Games. But Kibuuka in 1984 obtained Norwegian nationality and began representing the European state, winning several medals.
So, can Mawejje lift the bar even higher and also shine at the Winter Olympics? Every Ugandan will be praying this question is answered in the affirmative in 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.