Young rider setting the standard for Zambia’s female cyclists as the country eyes 2020 Olympic Games qualification.
SOLWEZI, ZAMBIA – Martha Sandondi is a 21-year-old professional cyclist under the Kansanshi Cycling team.
With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics looming, the talented rider – with several victories in local and international tournaments to her name – is one of Zambia’s best hopes for qualification to the prestigious event.
Professional cycling was introduced to Kansanshi in 2004 with backing from First Quantum Minerals (FQM) as a way of empowering local youth and providing them with a means to avoid illicit activities and escape poverty.
Martha describes cycling as a unique career opportunity for girls like her, adding that it is also a viable sources income.
She said: “Cycling is not only good for one’s health, but it can also be a good source of income. I use the money I earn from the tournaments to help my mother with some of the household expenses.”
Recently, Martha and her coach Eugine Kasempa had the opportunity to travel to Rwanda and train with veteran riders at the Africa Rising Cycling Centre.
The FQM-sponsored trip was designed to give the local cyclists a chance to work with some of the continent’s most experienced cycling coaches and test their skills on Rwanda’s notoriously challenging terrain.
“The training camp in Rwanda was an eye-opener. I got to experience cycling at a much higher level than I had been used to,” said Martha.
“Perhaps one of the most challenging parts of the camp, aside from the gruelling training schedule, was adjusting to Rwanda’s landscape. The country is very mountainous, meaning most of the cycling trails have a lot of steep and winding climbs unlike here in Zambia where the routes are relatively flat.
“The first day was particularly difficult for me as the demanding schedule and hours of racing on the unfriendly landscape took their toll on me. I felt like giving up and coming home, but my desire of becoming a top rider and making my country proud kept me going and I was eventually able to adapt and conquer the hostile climbs,” she explained.
Despite being relatively new to professional cycling, Martha has earned a solid reputation for her determination not to quit, even when the odds are stacked against her.
In 2016, her never-give-up attitude was put to the test after a nasty fall left her with a badly injured leg and knee a few kilometres from the finish line. Martha had edged ahead of the chasing pack in the fiercely contested School Series Tournament when one of the brakes on her bike failed causing her to crash.
“When I had my fall, my first instinct was to pull out of the race and wait for the medical team to pick me up because the pain was so intense. However, I knew I had a chance to finish in the top three because up until my accident, I had had a great race,” she recalls.
Despite the career-threatening injury, the strong-willed rider, bloodied, exhausted and with only one brake on her bike, picked herself up and pushed through the excruciating pain to regain her lead and pick up an unlikely win ahead of more experienced and decorated cyclists.
Almost two years down the line, Martha still experiences some discomfort in her left knee but her resolve is stronger than ever.
“That victory remains the best moment of my career. Every time I look at that trophy I am reminded that there is nothing I can’t do if I put my mind to it. And right now, my mind is firmly focused on earning qualification for my team and country to the 2020 Olympics.
“My dream is to become Zambia’s first ever female Olympic champion. I want to play my part in establishing Zambia as one of the best cycling nations in the world and the Tokyo Games would be a huge step forward.
“The training camp in Rwanda has helped me improve my racing from a tactical perspective as well as enhanced my endurance. I hope to impart the techniques I learned from Africa Rising Cycling Centre to my fellow riders at Kansanshi Cycling Academy as we intensify our preparations for the Olympics.
“I believe my team has what it takes to qualify, we just need to keep training hard, believe in ourselves and maintain the never say die spirit that has helped us become the best Cycling team in Zambia.
“Racing is as much about talent and the bike as it is about having the right attitude. Anyone can be a champion, you just have to believe in yourself, stay focused on your goal and most importantly be willing to put in the extra work to achieve it,” said Martha.
Martha is one of four female professional cyclists at Kansanshi Cycling Academy.