This year, AGE Africa’s Tri for Malawi is celebrating its 10th anniversary! Over the years, we’ve had a number of athletes take part in the Tri to show support for our programming and highlight the fortitude of our scholars, who travel a triathlon-length distance each week to get to school. We wanted to acknowledge our athletes’ efforts, so we are throwing it back each Thursday – in honor of #TBT aka #throwbackthursday— leading up to race day.
We’re starting out our Tri for Malawi #TBT series by talking to one of AGE Africa’s longest running Tri for Malawi athletes, Roland Pearson.
Roland has been on AGE Africa’s Board of Directors since 2014. He is Managing Director of Capacity Solutions at Enclude. He is a leader in international financial sector and enterprise development, with a 30 year track-record of motivating teams and building institutions to deliver commercial value and sustained social and economic impact. Read our recent conversation with Roland about his history and experiences with the Tri for Malawi below:
Thanks for doing this interview, Roland! Let’s get started right away with an easy question: what year did you start competing in the Tri for Malawi?
2011 was my first year. I know this is the 10th year for the Tri for Malawi team, and this will be my eighth year in a row competing.
What motivated you to do the Tri in 2011 year?
It was a number of things. I was being recruited to be on the board by Xanthe [AGE Africa’s founder], and I think she wanted to introduce me to AGE Africa and what it would really be like to be on the board, in addition to sitting in a meeting room and talking about strategy. As far as personal motivations, training for my first Tri for Malawi in 2011 aligned nicely with a lifestyle change I was seeking. Training for the Tri provided an opportunity to change my physical fitness routine, as well as my nutrition and dietary habits. So, getting started with the Tri was a confluence of Xanthe’s lobbying and learning about the organization, plus my personal motivations to work out and do more than just get back into the gym.
What distance do you typically compete in?
I’ve mostly competed in the individual Olympic distance, except for 2017. Last year, I did the bike leg on a relay team because I had some back issues, but I still wanted to participate. This year, I’m hoping to do the Olympic distance again.
What is the best part of competing in the Tri for Malawi?
In addition to doing it to support AGE Africa and our scholars, I really like camaraderie and sportsmanship amongst all the participants on race day and even the day before during packet pick up. You can feel that [camaraderie] amongst all the athletes at 6am in the corrals while everyone is getting inked up, preparing for race. It’s great learning about people, how long they have been doing the race, and why they are doing the race as we are getting ready to start racing.
What is a downside of competing in the Tri, for you?
I think it’s disappointing when [the race organizers] cancel the swim. It’s been cancelled 3 times in 7 previous years that I’ve done the race. People not doing the race think and say, ‘oh wow that’s great! You save a leg’. But really, even though there’s nothing you can do about the cancelled swim—because the water isn’t safe to swim in for whatever reason—as an athlete and someone who’s trained for all three legs, you are there because you want to do a full tri.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed my experiences, especially being part of the AGE Africa team and the sportsmanship with all the other athletes. I think the race is well run, and I really do think there is a good spirit about the race and people in it. And the real rallying point over the many years I’ve done the race is that it’s been done with AGE Africa.
What is your favorite tri-related memory?
There’s not one single moment in time that stands out. I think the end of the race when we all come back to the meeting point and are celebrating that everyone has done the race for AGE Africa—be it the sprint or Olympic distance, or participated on a relay team. I think the Tri for Malawi has built real lasting bonds and ties amongst a number of our supporters and with the Embassy of Malawi and the Ambassadors—both previous and current. The Embassy and Ambassadors make sure to get the staff out there as participants in the Tri and supporters cheering us all on, and that creates a very unique way to bond.
At the end of race, when we are all together, everyone is partially feeling a sense of relief and partially feeling a sense of group accomplishment; it’s really great to be celebrating that. After having exerted oneself during the Tri, gotten up early in the morning to be at the starting line, and being out in the sun and good weather that I’ve been lucky enough to have for all my experiences in doing the Tri, the end of race gatherings have been always been a really enjoyable part of the race.
What are you most looking forward to this year’s tri?
Finishing. While I am being a wee bit facetious, finishing is what I am looking forward to because my body is not completely back to 100% yet. Having done this 7 other times, I know where I need to be and what that feels like, so I’m not too worried, but I’m still hoping that I’ll be where I need to be.
It does definitely help to have people on the race course. Some people joke that seeing someone in their 20’s or 30’s zipping along must be motivating, but that doesn’t motivate me to keep going. It’s the 75-year-old zooming past me—THAT motivates me. When they start passing you, you think “I can do better than this.” Especially in the run leg, my absolutely least favorite part of the race. Some people like to chat during the 10K [the last leg of the Olympic distance race] and you have small conversations here and there. But when a 75-year-old comes up behind you or next to you and tells you, “You can do it, keep going,” you’re like “Ok! Yea! I can and I will.”
Would you continue to participate in the Tri for Malawi in the future?
If AGE Africa stopped using the Tri for Malawi, I would focus more on biking and bike races. AGE Africa got me into triathlons, so, ultimately, if AGE is involved, then I’ll be involved.
Any final thoughts you’d like to share?
The Tri for Malawi, its relationship to AGE Africa, and the connection to the girls we support in terms of the level of endurance, stress, and difficulty that a triathlon entails, to me, solidifies why we do this event every year. In comparison to the daily lives of the girls we support that walk a triathlon-length distance every week to get to school, this is one of the most direct ways to connect to the girls that we support. Symbolically, participating in the Tri and fundraising for the organization is of one the strongest signs that we can send to the girls in Malawi that we support, that we really do appreciate them, think of them, and support them. I hope that AGE Africa uses the Tri to continue to send that message and make that connection. I really think there could hardly be a stronger show of our support to the girls in Malawi, and I’m hopeful that we can and will continue doing the Tri for Malawi.
Donate to AGE Africa’s upcoming 10th Annual Tri for Malawi to help provide scholarships for girls like Shelter. Athletes are competing in the Nation’s Escape Triathlon to raise $75,000 to fund more scholarships for ambitious, hard-working girls who face not only financial hardship, but also share an incredible potential to make changes for themselves, their communities, and their country. Consider supporting one of our athletes or donate directly to the Tri’s fundraising campaign today!