Iman Kagumba: Trailblazer
Earlier this year we announced our Beyond riders for 2021 and a notable addition was the inspirational Iman Kagumba, a trail-blazing professional mountain biker from Kenya. Fiercely competitive and enigmatic, she has defied religious and cultural norms to fight for her rightful place in a male-dominated sport. Iman's passion transcends cycling; she uses her status, support and studies (Community Development) to encourage others in her community, especially girls and women, to pick sports and pursue their aspirations.
We were humbled to learn first hand about Iman's journey to the top and her ambitions for women in the sport of cycling.
Tell us a little about yourself and your home town?
My name is Iman Kagumba, a 22 year old female cyclist from Mombasa, Kenya. Mombasa is an Island at the Coast of Kenya and the culture is mostly Swahili with most of the locals being Muslim. I am a Muslim. I studied Community Development at Mount Kenya University awaiting graduation. I love volunteering for different social causes that can lead change and development in my town
How did you start cycling. Is cycling a big sport in Kenya and is there much provision for new riders, especially women?
For as long as I remember, I have always been a cyclist, although back in 2017 I started cycling more, since I used to commute to university using my bike or walking. It's a 5km walk to my campus, as my classes were from 5pm - 8pm, I had enough time in the morning to train and in time I grew to love it more and decided to start training professionally. It has been three years since I started cycling professionally. Cycling is not clearly embraced in my community as a sport especially for women. It's considered a hobby for men and a taboo for women though due to recent awareness rides, more community members have started embracing cyclists, and slowly trying to accept women as cyclists. There are hardly any provisions for new cyclists as the sport isn't appreciated and equipment is also quite costly as we have to source abroad.
What are your ambitions in cycling? Do you have a set goal that you want to achieve, or are you just doing it because that is what you enjoy?
My greatest ambition in life is to compete internationally and to be able to gain the proper experience of cycling for me to be able to come back home and raise more awareness on women and cycling and most importantly start up a cycling academy in the future. I enjoy cycling but I need more women to join the sport and normalize women and cycling in my city.
Tell us about your bikes? Cycling equipment is harder to come by in Kenya, so how do you get the equipment you need to race and train?
I have spent a fortune to buy the current bikes that I have, this includes sacrificing part of my campus fees, teaching people how to cycle for money and also a few friends and my mom coming together to loan me money for the bikes. For the bike equipment I usually buy from people who upgrade their bikes to higher components so I buy the ones disposed of. I also get some second hand stuff from the Uk from a dealer (Britken.com) based in Uk and Kenya, although at times he is expensive.
'Cycling is not clearly embraced in my community as a sport especially for women. It's considered a hobby for men and a taboo for women though due to recent awareness rides, more community members have started embracing cyclists, and slowly trying to accept women as cyclists.'
What are the trails like near you. Do you ride off-road or on the road?
The trails near me are good enough for rides especially the off road trails. The roads are not too good, they are squeezed and in recent days we have lost 2 cyclists to road accidents . I have also been on hit and run incidents where a motorist hits you and takes off with no care. For this reason I usually ride off-road where it's much safer, more adventurous and makes me stronger.
And finally tell us about the races you compete in. Are there many races close to you, or do you have to travel far to participate?
I have competed in one of the biggest 4 stage road races in Kenya where I managed 6th GC out of a few women from Kenya and Uganda. I have competed in one of the first women criterium races early this year where I also managed 7th GC out of 20 Elite ladies. I have also competed in two offroad races , one of which I won and the other I came in 7th. I have also participated in a duathlon, where I managed 2nd and in a triathlon relay, where my team was 3rd. In my 3 years of cycling these are my greatest achievements.
The races are all more than 70 miles away, others are 300+ miles away. I have to prepare so hard both physically and financially in order to attend any of the races in my country let alone the international ones. I aspire to compete in international races but so far, I have not been able to, because of the financial costs involved that I cannot afford.