USA-based snowboarder Brolin Mawejje may not be a household name in Ugandan sport but he is highly regarded internationally, where he has won multiple awards.
The 24-year-old, who is in the country for charity work, dreams on representing Uganda at the highest level of competition, writes MOSES MUGALU.
I first met Mawejje in January 2017 while on a trip back home for holiday. He was here primarily to raise awareness about the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics, where he hoped to represent Uganda. He was buoyant as he went about assuring me how he would impress in South Korea.
For starters, snowboarding is quite alien to Ugandans but it is until you understand Mawejje’s career that you get to appreciate his zeal.
But in a bitter twist of fate just weeks after he returned to the USA to make final preparations, his Olympic dreams were shattered by a minor heart attack that ruled him out of the Games.
He returned in December 2017 to officiate over Jedidiah Foundation Challenge Cup, a football tournament for underage teams. This time round, he had given up on PyeongChang but assured me he would be ready in four years’ time when the winter games will be hosted in Beijing.
Last week, he yet again came back home, fully recovered, but this time as a public health specialist and ambassador to promote the works of Joy for Children, an advocacy and action centre.
His life is now not just about snowboarding, a sport that involves descending a snow-covered slope while standing on a snowboard. He is a graduate of public health from the Westminster College and also a global ambassador for Visa, a digital payments system.
“I’m glad to be an ambassador for this charity which advocates against gender-based violence and child marriages,” says Mawejje, who speaks with a heavy American accent. “But my dreams are still on despite the injury setback I got early this year.”
Looking at him, it is hard to realise he is just 24 years because he is philosophical in his words and actions. The Visa sponsorship enables Mawejje to traverse the globe to promote his sport as well as human rights.
At the centre, Mawejje donated relief items such as blankets and saucepans as well as literary material on teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
“I grew up in Kampala and experienced first-hand the struggles young people go through…that is why I’m very keen to settle here when my sports and academic careers are over,” he says. “I’m glad I graduated in this field of public health and for that reason I cannot wait to lend my skills when the opportunity arises.”
Mawejje admits he has an uphill task to convince Ugandans about his skill in snowboarding but his main focus is flying the Ugandan flag at the highest level of competition. He also aims to attract local support and be a role model for aspiring youth.
“I know there are many young people out there with hidden talents that need to be unlocked be it in arts, music or innovations,” he says, who started out as a skateboarder in Kampala streets before finding his mojo in snowboarding.
“Unfortunately they are not as lucky like me but belief can take people places,” he says. “I don’t aim to turn Ugandans into snowboarding because that is impossible but I want to show everyone that they can achieve their dream.”
Since becoming a professional snowboarder in 2010, Mawejje has won several tournaments but says his progress has been hampered by lack of funds and support. In fact, apart from the Visa sponsorship, he raises much of the money necessary to compete through crowd funding. “I spend about $30,000 annually on snowboarding and what keep me active are fans and sponsors.” He says.
He says his efforts to highlight his potential to represent Uganda has been met with a lot of approval from various stakeholders in sports ministry but he is yet to see any tangible results.
“I have met many key officials who have promised me support but the problem is that many think it has to be financial. No. It can even be through raising awareness,” he says. “I hope one day I will meet President Museveni and explain to him why the government needs to invest in sports personalities who market the country better than anything else. We don’t need to celebrate our sports personalities only after they’ve won something big. ”
At the moment, Mawejje says he cannot beat the world’s best but with more facilitation, he hopes to be in supreme shape to win regularly.
“The best snowboarders in the world travel every few weeks for tournaments across the globe but I cannot match that,” he says. “But at that high level, it is not about winning, but representing the country. People may not understand it here but world over it is a huge honour.”
Who is Mawejje?
Interestingly, Mawejje grew up in Kampala with his father and six siblings. His big breakthrough came in 2004 when he joined his mother in Massachusetts. While there, a local family adopted him and exposed him to snowboarding.
“I was immediately hooked. I was a little bit scared. It was nerve-wracking and eye-opening. But at the same time it was magical,” he says.
Mawejje, who admits he is not seeing anyone yet, plans to raise a family only after studies.
Now, the aspiring orthopaedic surgeon not only dreams of becoming the first Ugandan to compete at the Winter Olympics but also plans to settle back home upon completion of his master’s degree.
“I’m on course to be a surgeon and I would love to do it at home,” he says.