Portia Chitendere

Beating the gender stereotypes. . .female cyclist re-lives 550km race

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THE story of a mother of three young kids and wife eking a living selling groceries in a tuck shop yet makes time to cycle in a gruelling 550KM race sounds more like fiction or a far-fetched script from a fantasy novel than reality. That she challenged 27 men in a race that cuts across several cities and towns in four days makes the story even harder to believe.

Almost a month after taking part in the 550km Tour de Great Dyke race, 29-year-old Portia Chitendere still endures the physical effects of cycling on a rising and falling terrain that can take its toll on some of the most experienced cyclists in the country.

The Tour de Great Dyke race starts in Darwendale passing through Chegutu and Kwekwe enroute to Shurugwi town before winding down in Zvishavane.

And 96 hours is all the cyclists have to complete the race.

For Chitendere, growing up, cycling did not come as a hobby but a necessity to get to school in rural Mhondoro in the 1990s.

“I grew up in rural Mhondoro and the schools that I attended were very far from our village so my father bought me a bicycle and I would ride to school every day. It was during that time that I grew passionate about taking cycling as a career,” said Chitendere.

But life had its own plans and motherhood forced Chitendere to put her dream career on the back seat.

“With three young children I had to put cycling on hold and like any other parent out there, I had to find means to help take care of my family so I run a tuck shop in Glenview suburb where we live.

“My husband later bought a road racer and encouraged me to join Ghetto Cycling Club and I have never looked back. It’s not easy to be accepted as a female cyclist in our communities but I’m lucky to have a very supportive family,” she said.

On the first day of the race, on 3 October, Chitendere says she almost grew cold feet and contemplated withdrawing.

“I had never cycled such a long distance so naturally I was scared and almost withdrew before we took to the road on the first day. On the third day it was so windy, making the cycling conditions very difficult but I’m proud of myself that I soldiered on.

“It was a great feeling seeing the Zvishavane community cheering me on at the end of the race and it was worth the pain and sweat,” she recalls.

For her effort she walked away with a trophy, $600 cash and a food hamper.

The race, now in its third year, was bankrolled by TN Beverages, Metbank, Agribank, Agriseeds and Pote Holdings among other sponsors.

Bulawayo’s Siyephambili Cycling Club made a clean sweep at the race with Andrew Chikwaka coming out tops while Advocate Phiri came second and Nkulumo Dube claiming third position.