Going Pro - and making the Olympics - on $100 a Month
UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2016: Find out what's next for Phetetso and the ACE - The Sufferfest - Lesotho MTB Team.
Anyone who follows African cycling would have heard the name Phetetso Monese on many occasions. Riding for the ACE - The Sufferfest - Lesotho MTB team, Phetetso is the team captain and superstar – the rider counted on to bring in the results. His leadership has taken the team to a UCI ranking in the top 40 worldwide - an unprecedented achievement for African cycling.
Over the years, he has won more than ten National Titles and can still show a clean pair of heels to the rest of his compatriots in most races. He has consistently been on the brink of a world top 100 ranking with a career best of 105.
In international races, Phetetso has earned a formidable reputation as the strong, “Rasta” rider, in reference to his long dreadlock hairstyle projecting from the back of his helmet.
At the age of 32, Phetetso shows no sign of slowing down. He had set himself targets of being competitive at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games and qualification for Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games -- but has already surpassed those goals by being the first cyclist from Lesotho ever to qualify for the Olympic Games. Phetetso is going to Rio.
How he did it is the true story.
While most of his competitors devote themselves entirely to their cycling aspirations, Phetetso had been working nine hours a day, seven days a week as a merchandiser for a well-known soft-drinks company. He spent his days taking inventory and making sure supermarket shelves and fridges are well-stocked. His predecessor was responsible for only two neighbouring stores, but Phetetso being conscientious and industrious services many more, using his bike as transport between customers.
His motive for putting in so many hours when he was available was so that his boss would be lenient when he needed to be away for cycling events. However, it did not always work out and occasionally Phetetso was forced to be left behind when the team traveled to some of the races.
Phetetso is a family man, married to Mareabetsoe with two little children – 4 year-old daughter, Reabetsoe and 8 month old son, Realeboha. The monthly salary of $80 gave the family security of food on the table and school fees for little Reabetsoe. It doesn’t sound like much, but they made it work while he competed against some of the best MTB riders in the world.
In this way, Phetetso demonstrates that he is not just a success on the bike, but also a success in life. It is not easy to balance work, training and family life on such a small budget.
It seems ironic that a man earning just $80 a month should be riding a $4000 bike - worth more than four years’ salary. But Phetetso has earned it! He started with a cheaper bike and made his way up. It would have been impossible for him to live his dream without the ACE-The Sufferfest-Lesotho MTB Team and our great team of #DreamMakers.
Following the announcement that The Sufferfest committed to sponsoring the team again for 2016, Mark West, team director, offered Phetetso the team's first “Pro” contract. As a team, they committed to supporting Phetetso and his family with an income of $100 every month, so that he can dedicate his time to the sport he loves without fear of his family suffering.
Since turning pro, Phetetso has taken a string of results, including a bronze medal in the Marathon and an 8th place in the XC at the African Continental Championships. His qualification for Rio is the latest chapter in this man's incredible and inspirational story. Sufferlandria is behind you, Phetetso!
---The Sufferfest is the principal sponsor of the ACE-The Sufferfest-Lesotho MTB Team, based in Lesotho. Team Manager Mark West will be updating us every month with an inside look at this underdog team. Words and photos by Mark West.