“Pope’s cyclist” in Wollongong for the Worlds
This Sunday, the Dutch globetrotter will begin competition in the world championships in Australia wearing a jersey that, to put it mildly, stands out from the crowd: the shirt worn by the Vatican.
Even as a child, Nothing Schuurhuis would have “never dared to dream of it” if he had the opportunity to compete in the World Cycling Championship. The Dutch globetrotter is going to take the start of the race on Sunday while wearing a garment that is, to put it mildly, unique: the shirt worn by the Vatican. “I feel blessed,” he said when speaking to AFP.
After becoming an official member of the International Cycling Union (UCI) just one year ago, the Vatican is participating in the World Championships for the very first time by entering a rider. The UCI was the very first federation of an Olympic sport to welcome the Vatican into its fold.
It was necessary to determine a minimum competitive representative, which was not a simple assignment considering the population of this microstate was less than 1000 people.
To be eligible, you must be a citizen of the Vatican or an employee of the Vatican, or you or a member of your immediate family (parent, child) must work for the Vatican. Rien Schuurhuis, who is 40 years old, is not a priest, a museum worker, or a member of the Swiss Guard; nonetheless, his wife, Chiara Porro, will be Australia’s Ambassador to the Holy See beginning in the year 2020.
During an interview on Friday with AFP, the man who was born and raised in Groningen explained how he was able to become a member of Athletica Vaticana, which is essentially an initiative started by Pope Francis. The Pope thinks that participating in sports is an effective means of communicating the ideals of brotherhood and inclusiveness. Everyone is on an equal playing field, and everyone is working toward the same objective when they compete. This is a message that resonates with me. It’s hard to believe that I’m actually at the World Championships right now.
The pope’s message
For this former semi-professional rider in continental teams, the third division of cycling, it is the culmination of an astonishing journey that has taken him to the four corners of the globe, always with the bike in hand.
“With my wife, we traveled quite a bit, we lived in Australia, India, and New Caledonia. Cycling for me has always been, beyond pure competition, a way to blend in with the local population, to make friends of all ages and all religions.“, underlines this believer, father of two children.
In 2019, the sovereign pontiff praised cycling, a sport that “highlights certain virtues such as endurance to fatigue – in long and difficult climbs -, courage – to attempt a breakaway or tackle a sprint -, integrity in respecting the rules, altruism, and sense of teamwork“Recalls Athletica Vaticana, which is also an official member of the International Padel and Taekwondo Federation, and is about to join the fold of athletics.
“This message resonates with my own experience», Underlines Rien Schuurhuis who aims to apply it wherever he has been, such as in New Caledonia where he learned the tricks of the trade to young local runners whom he has also supported financially.
“Even though we didn’t speak the same language, cycling brought us together. It’s the virtue of sports says.
The escape, ultimate dream»
“I probably learned to ride a bike before I even started to walk.” If he had always been involved in cycling, he would have “never dared to aspire to participate one day” at a World Championship, which is “a far too unrealistic objective.”
“When I was a kid, I imagined that one day I would be a part of a team that competed on the continental circuit, but those dreams have since faded away. Finding myself here, I still have a little time believing it; I’m only going to realize it once I’m on the starting line.» So finding myself here, I still have a little trouble believing it.
On Sunday, the papal ambassador, who will be accompanied to Wollongong by former professional cyclist Valerio Agnoli and a former colleague of Ivan Basso and Vincenzo Nibali, will have modest aspirations.
“To make the first breakout would be the ultimate dream, but it will be very difficult to accomplish.” “Winning is extremely doubtful (he chuckles), and even finishing the race is a long shot because the course is so challenging,” he says as he falls.
The Dutchman, who also holds an Australian passport, is involved in several philanthropic activities on the periphery of the World Championships, such as the one that took place on Friday with the Catholic group Caritas. However, the major thing for the Dutchman is elsewhere.
“I feel extremely fortunate to be here to compete in these World Championships, and as a result, it only seems right for me to be engaged and make an effort to assist people in return.”