As real-life stories go, Innocent and Preye’s is an inspiring one worthy of being told many times over. An archetypal exemplification of sports providing springboards of growth and empowerment to talented young disadvantaged people.
About nine years ago, Innocent and Preye, two young boys from the Niger – Delta region of Nigeria were in their separate worlds, cognitively unaware of each other’s existence, hustling jobs, and silently battling destructive distractions rife in the region. With a daily reality of violence, cultic radicalization, and flamboyant lifestyle of young indoctrinated militants in the Niger Delta, very few youths had the opportunity to choose a different pathway. Innocent and Preye were amongst this few.
I saw what my friends were passing through in my environment and how many kids were involved in cultism, and oil bunkering, but cycling turned my mind off all these. Without cycling I would probably be among those youths in the creeks vandalizing oil pipes; my life would have been at risk.- Innocent reflected.
It wasn’t his first encounter with cycling, he grew up riding a bike to ease transportation for his mum who was a food vendor. “I would ride my bike as a kid carrying food coolers to assist my mother who sold food,” he said.
Innocent’s story wasn’t entirely peculiar, somewhere else in the Niger – Delta, about the same time, Preye, a young orphan was hustling jobs as a skateboard stuntman and a clown at events to support his family. Yet again, cycling came to the rescue.
I was all alone struggling but cycling came to my rescue. Cycling gave me a sense of family and stopped me from joining cultists…” Preye revealed.
In Innocent and other cyclists of the Sharks Racing Club, Preye has found the family he so much longed for. They go everywhere and do everything together. Hardly do you see a picture of Innocent without Preye featuring in it and vice versa. Beyond the familial bond, on the socio-economic front, pursuing a career in cycling has been quite rewarding for the two.
With all I have seen in life and my environment, I will say cycling is a game changer for me and my family. I never imagined that I will come this far in life but cycling made it happen. It gave me the choice of being people’s hero over cultism.– Innocent
“For me, I come from a family that is not affluent. I lost my dad a long time ago and my mum in 2013. However, with cycling I have been able to fend for my kids, and pay my rent.” – Preye
It’s been nine and seven years respectively since Innocent and Preye embraced cycling as a profession and according to them, it has been a rollercoaster experience of advancement previously unimaginable. In less than a decade, both Preye and Innocent have participated in more than 8 international events across Africa and Europe including the UCI training camps.
These two cyclists and many more like them of Sharks Racing Club of Rivers State are already a source of inspiration to other kids from the region. Many of these kids already see a brighter future beyond the squalor of Niger – Delta through cycling. Some of them now ride for junior cycling teams like Team Aspire and Team Velocity.
At a time, and in an environment where things seem bleak and youths are given to deifying reprobates and crooks as heroes, it is both refreshing and fulfilling for us at the Sustainable Cycling Foundation (SCF) to use the two-wheel sport as a viable means of raising these new vanguard of worthy heroes whose life stories continue to inspire and give other kids a new reality to aspire to.
A generation of new heroes are emanating from the creeks of the Niger-Delta and these ones are being propelled by the pedal power.