Expanding the Sport – One thing I realized immediately was that we had to expand the sport of Taekwondo in Rwanda as quickly as possible. We had too few athletes to make any kind of impact in international competitions and all in Rwanda didn’t even know the sport existed. With that in mind, we encouraged each person, that as soon as they achieved a black belt, they should begin a club. This later developed into our one adult master per club policy for expansion. Before we realized the impact, we found ourselves having more than twenty clubs of Taekwondo and around four hundred athletes. The previous year we had only forty athletes and three clubs.
Buying and Making tools – At this time Taekwondo had just undergone a successful transition from being manually scored to electronic scoring making it a more fair and less subjective competition. The problem was that the systems cost was on average $9000 of equipment for one mat. A typical tournament needs at least three mats worth of equipment. World Taekwondo, our new partner, had an annual development fund that you could request assistance for equipment. We were able to use this for a few years and amassed about $40,000 worth of electronic scoring equipment. This made Rwanda the first country in Central, Eastern, and Southern Zones of Africa to possess the system. It also put Rwanda in a leading role for hosting the highest levels of competitions from among those countries. Additionally, Rwanda has a big push for self – reliance as a nation. Out of this we began creating and manufacturing our own equipment specific to Taekwondo such as uniforms and targets.
Coaching the Sport – I was all we had. At this point, I had to administrate the sport, fund the sport, work to expand the sport and coach the sport. Out of this, though, I was able to bring a different perspective to the coaching. As I had been a runner and cyclist and had also studied exercise physiology at the master’s level, I analyzed the sport and realized it was like racing three 800 meter races back to back with a one minute break in between. Out of this we then took traditional activities in Taekwondo training and modified them to achieve results more like training for running the mile or two mile. I loved this part. I also loved the immediate impact on our athletes as they won much more easily and experienced less fatigue while competing. I dearly loved getting to pray and study with the team daily and we really grew together in the sport, the art and life.
Internationals Near and Far – From my experiences as an athlete, I realized that Africa, at that time, did not have enough high level events to prepare our athletes for winning on the international or world level. Out of this came initiatives to send our athletes abroad to compete in Europe (German and Dutch Opens) as well as to begin hosting our own international events here in Rwanda. I was aided by the Embassy of the Republic of Korea, as they desired to sponsor an annual event honoring their Ambassador and their history of Taekwondo. Our first event attracted five nations. We added to this the annual event of the Gorilla Open which also attracted several nations to Rwanda. Rwanda’s athletes won handily and they established themselves as the country to beat in Taekwondo for this part of Africa. As well Rwanda was able to send two athletes to the qualification event for the London 2012 Olympics. Sadly, we didn’t qualify, but our vision and goals expanded. Our big event during that time was the World Championships of 2013. This event was a real stretch for us as we sought to send seven athletes and it was the first time for the government of Rwanda to step up and assist with the cost of the flights. It was a good thing they did, too, because for the team and myself it averaged more than $3000 per person and forty hours of travel to get from Kigali, Rwanda to Puebla, Mexico! We performed well and our team was received wonderfully as superstars by the Mexican people.
Leveling Up – We now had some credible athletes ready to retire from international levels of competing and they had been identified as ready to take over roles that I was currently fulfilling, namely coaching and administrating. This was timely as after I had presented a seminar to all of Rwanda’s sport federations on best sport practices, I was asked to become the CEO of Olympics for Rwanda. During that same month, I received an invitation from the President of World Taekwondo Africa to attend the biannual general assembly on behalf of Rwanda and while there I was informed that I had been chosen to sit on the executive council for the continent of Africa. These were two shocking and surprising changes for myself as a missionary and for Rwanda’s sports. I interpreted these changes, though, as opportunities from God and we sought to make the best of it all.
It reminded me of John 3:8 where Jesus said, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
Truly, I was being blown around, and didn’t have much of a clue where I was coming from or going!