Female cyclist thrives in male dominated sport

GROWING up in the rural areas of Mhondoro, Portia Chitendere faced the tough task of walking 14km everyday to and from St Michaels High School after enrolling for form one at the institution.

However, her father could not stomach seeing her daughter endure that distance and he realised buying her a bicycle would be the best way to ease her journey to school.

As Portia’s father gave her bicycle-riding lessons, little did he know that one day his daughter would be inspired to become a professional cyclist.

Chitendere recently took part in the grueling 550km Tour de Great Dyke (TDGD) Cycling event that ran from along Zimbabwe’s mineral rich geological feature, where she was the only female participant.

The 29-year-old cyclist said her passion for cycling has kept her going in the male dominated sport.

Coming from Glen View township in Harare, she reveals she has had to overcome stereotypes that cycling is only for males through support from her family.

“People still have this misconception that cycling should be for males but luckily my family has rallied behind me. My husband is 100 percent behind my participation in the sport and he bought me the racing bicycle which I am using.”

“The support coming from my husband and parents has kept me going stronger and stronger because I love the sport and it has drowned the negative voices that say as a wife and mother I cannot be a cyclist,” she said.

The mother of three runs a tuck shop and cycles 20km everyday as she travels to order stock for her business and uses this as part of training.

To her, cycling has become a part of her and it is not something she can do without, whether she is running errands or competing against others.

Portia was the only female cyclist at the Tour de Great Dyke race and although she struggled to complete the race, she made it to the finish point and despite coming last she won a lot of admiration with Midlands State Minister, Larry Mavima awarding her a trophy and $500 for her persistence and endurance.

The event, which was organised by Zvishavane-based radio station, YaFM kicked off from Darwendale on 3 October and ran for four days, passing through Chegutu, Kwekwe, Shurugwi and ending in Zvishavane.

Portia was also given a food hamper by Adambede Furnishers for her efforts.

“When I entered the race, I was excited about completing 550km and did not think much of winning but I was happy with the appreciation I received. Although there were moments when I nearly quit as fatigue got the better of me, the Peacemaker, encouraged me urging me to slow down my pace but not quit and I managed to complete the whole course,” she said.

She bemoaned the participation of few women in the sport adding at most events there are white women cyclists with very few blacks.

She has taken part in races such as the Shamva Road, Flying Eagles in Bulawayo and the JM Busha 54Km race that was held in Harare in May where she came first and made off with $300 prize money.

YaFM chairman, Munyaradzi Hwengere said they were excited about having the first female racer in the event’s three year history.

He said they would like to see more women taking part in future races.

“Portia’s presence caused a lot of excitement among other participants, spectators and sponsors who were thrilled to see a women cycle that distance. When more women come on board we will make a separate category,” he said.