Cycling: From riding for a living to cycling for gold

KENYA - Tom Kangangi was once one of the brightest pupils in Kidiwa Primary School in the Kenyan town of Eldoret and had a voracious appetite for learning the English language.

Then his mother fell seriously ill and was bed-ridden, and his father deserted the family.

At 13, he was pulled out of school because the family could not afford the fees, and he was sent to work on cattle farms earning 800 shillings - slightly over S$11 - a month.

"My mother did not ask me to stop school. But one day the teacher sent me home because we couldn't pay the school fees," recalls Kangangi, now 25 and a cyclist.

He has an 18-year-old sister.

"I thought that I was working temporarily and I could return to school. But it went on like that, me working on the farm, until school was all forgotten."

He never returned to school, but his thirst for knowledge never stopped.

At 16, he found a job as an office boy in a printing company and would practise English by reading the magazines and newspapers available at work.

He managed to save 2,000 shillings - enough to purchase a Black Mumba, an ordinary heavy-duty bicycle - and started work as a boda-boda bicycle taxi rider.

That helped steer him towards his career today as a Kenyan Riders cyclist.

Like his teammates, he is dreaming big and hopes one day to compete in the Tour de France. "It's very much possible. It's a road of determination and with the right guys, it's possible. This thing came to us late in our lives, but it's still possible. It's never too late."

It is clear to see what fuels Kangangi through long-suffering hours of training and racing on tarmac and dirt roads.

"I think about my mother, my sister, my grandfather, and I think about myself. Someday I hope to have a family, and I want them to have a better life," he says. "It might not be the best life in the world, but I want to make it a little bit better."

For inspiration, he turns to books. Picking up a copy of British rider Bradley Wiggins' newest autobiography My Time, he adds: "Books give me a picture of the Europeans and what happens to riders there. They tell me how they started their careers and that they too have their own difficulties."

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