Nineteen-year-old Penias Tenthani was the first BMX rider to represent Zimbabwe at the UCI BMX World Championships held in Belgium in July.
BY MUNYARADZI MADZOKERE
His performance was far from impressive as he was ranked 78 out of 92 riders, but that experience has spurred him on to work and set lofty goals.
Never mind that the rider who lives in rural Domboshava has to endure an hour and a half long journey just to get to the track for practice almost every day, his mind is already set on making it to the Rio 2016 Olympics.
“Basically, my ultimate goal now is to compete in the Rio Olympics,” Tenthani said in an interview with Standardsport.
“But what I would need is more financial help to enable me to get to and from training sessions and be able to travel more and compete with the best overseas,” added the country’s top BMX rider.
For somebody whose background circumstances are not so rosy and with little opportunity to compete with the best in Europe due to financial constraints, qualification for Rio seems far-fetched, but he dares to dream.
“I also want to be a role model to the young underprivileged children and help spread the BMX sport to marginalised communities. I want to make BMX popular and help people realise it’s not just a white man’ sport,” he said.
Tenthani is one of the few black children who have had the opportunity to express their talents in the white-dominated sport of BMX.
However, his immediate focus is to win the All Africa Championships to be hosted in this country next month at all cost as that will give him valuable points and increase his chances of making it to the Olympics
But without good Samaritans like Phil Ellse of Miekles Foundation and others in the Zimbabwe BMX fraternity, Tenthani might not have made it.
“Ellse and Meikles Foundation have been of great help in recent years, as well as other people in Zimbabwe BMX. Ellse is my mentor; I see him as my father because he has been through thick and thin for me to be on this road. I don’t think I could be where I am now without him,” he said.
Ellse, a Meikles Group employee who also works with the Meikles Foundation, spoke about his involvement with the athlete.
“There are two sides to how I look after Tenthani. One as a nurturing parent and a role model. This is not about money, but I am talking in terms of guidance, just like I would do for my own child. I do this because I am so passionate about BMX sport and its development,” Ellse said.
“On the real aspect behind Tenthani’s backers, it’s called the Meikles Foundation which is part of the Meikles Group. It’s a foundation where we do a lot with the prisons, underprivileged, prison bands, schools and Cancer Trust.”
Ellse has been Tenthani’s mentor for three years and believes in the talent that he sees in the young athlete.
“I have seen what he can do and I have said “this kid is a lot better, why hasn’t he got opportunities?” I think he has got an opportunity for the Olympics. There is a qualification process for him building up to the Olympics and if he is our best rider we should move every stone to get him there,” Ellse said.
“He might never make it [to the Olympics], but everyone aspires to be in the top 200 and ride in the BMX circuit. I think there he can live comfortably, see the world and make his contacts. He went to the World Championships and learnt a lesson in Belgium. He came back with a new attitude and he is now pretty much focused on a long-term goal”.
Born on June 2 1996 to domestic workers in Harare’s northern suburbs, Tenthani was introduced to the sport by a friend. He has competed in many countries that included South Africa, England, France, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium.
“I was 12 years old when I started BMX sport. I was introduced by a friend, Errol Hansen, at a bring-a-buddy race meeting in 2008 and I have not looked back since then. It has been an exciting journey since then,” he said.
Among his achievements, include being the 2010 South Africa grand champion as well as the national BMX series champion, while the following year he was an All Africa BMX champion, retaining the national series championship in his age group. He was also voted the Zimbabwe BMX rider of the year.
In 2012 he won the All Africa Championships before going on to reach the semi-finals at the 2013 Swiss Cup semi-finalist and also at the French Cup, while he competed at the European Championships in Germany the same year.