The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: My Physique Does Not Make Me Less of a Woman

Claudette Mukasakindi's sporting achievements speak for themselves for she has excelled not only locally but internationally as well, representing her country at the London Olympic Games.

.Born on the December 25, 1982 in Nyarugenge district to the late Abel Rwaburindi and Esther Mukadereva, she is the seventh born in a family of nine.

Mukasakindi was only able to complete primary school, which she finished at Ecole Primaire de Mwendo.

"When people close to me realised I had potential, they supported me both morally and financially and encouraged me to participate at the higher levels. In 2007, I was introduced to the national team after competing in various events - I qualified because I was an outstanding candidate."

"I will never forget the first time I carried my country's flag, in 2007, during the cross country race that took place in Mombasa. Even though I left empty handed, I wouldn't trade that experience for anything."

The budding long and middle distance runner joined the army in 2008. "I joined the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) after they showed interest in me. You can't compete for them if you aren't a soldier. Since then I have participated in competitions organised by the security bodies in the region," she narrated.

Her athletic prowess took her to the Cross Country Championships in Mombasa, the All-Africa Games in Maputo, the World Indoor Championships in Turkey, the All-Africa Games in Benin, the Francophone Games in Beirut in 2009 where she won gold medal in the 10km race. The culmination of all her efforts was her participation in the 2012 London Olympia Games, where she came in 101st in a time of 2:51:07.

Claudette says the experience of meeting people she only saw in pictures was one of the greatest moments of her life.

"Everyone has the potential to win but sometimes, other competitors soar higher and leave you wondering if you will ever get to their level, especially when you surpass your previous best times".

"I met fellow athletes especially from Kenya and used the little Swahili I know to communicate with them. With others, I had to combine French and English. When I failed to communicate, other Rwandans helped me."

Claudette Mukasakindi says that she became an athlete to help support her impoverished parents.

And like many other female sportspersons, she has encountered many challenges, including the thinking that athletics is not for women.

"Sometimes, I'm forced to train in full body attire even though it is very uncomfortable because real athletic wear is frowned upon. Many people think athletes don't get married and that if we do, we can't have kids. That's ridiculous!"

"There are some men who can't approach a female athlete because of our masculine bodies. Why should that be a problem? We are no different from other women," she said.

Even with all the challenges she's had, giving up on her career is not an option for her. Besides her monthly salary from RDF, she earns extra money by competing in various competitions.

Being a soldier and an athlete at the same time has not stopped her from spending quality time with her family and friends.

Still single, Mukasakindi pays for her siblings' education and supports her mother in every way that she can. "Women should stop at nothing to fulfill their goals. Do not let anyone tell you that you can't do something because you can do anything you put your mind to. Some people find pleasure in pulling other people down with negativity."

"My role model is Tirunesh Dibaba from Ethiopia. I dream of soaring to her level and beyond. After I retire from athletics, I will pursue my childhood dream which is venturing into business," the athlete added.

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