July 2012 | Nate Pedersen

Rare Book Begets an Olympian

If you search the usual online book-hunting websites for "Les Secrets D'une Nage Evolutive" (or "The Secrets of Swimming Development" in English) you won't find a single available copy.  Head over to OCLC and you'll still come up empty-handed.  The elusive swimming manual is a slippery fish.

And yet somehow a copy of that book found its way to Rwanda, the small country in central Africa shattered by a genocide in 1994.

The book ended up in the hands of a high-school teacher in an undeveloped town on the shore of Lake Kivu, who saw a promising young swimmer gliding through the placid lake.

kivu1.jpgThe teacher passed the book on to him.

Now that swimmer, Jackson Niyomugabo, is representing Rwanda at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Niyomugabo revealed in an interview with the AP that he taught himself how to swim competitively by poring over the illustrations in "Les Secrets D'une Nage Evolutive."  Since Niyomugabo can not read French (or English), the illustrations were all the instruction he had to go by.  He would then compare the illustrations with the competitive swimmers he could sometimes watch on the television in the lobby of a local hotel.  Niyomugabo practiced the moves in Lake Kivu whenever he had the opportunity.  And now he is one of the four Rwandans competing in the Summer Games in London.

Niyomugabo's goal is to earn a medal in his event - the 50m freestyle, one of the fastest swimming events held at the Olympics.  He doesn't have much of a chance in that regard - in fact, it would be an incredible feat if he even makes it to the finals.  But for a swimmer without any support - no coach, no training facility, no Olympic-size pools - just getting to the Olympics is an amazing accomplishment.

And it's owed to the circuitous route of survival traveled by a particularly scarce book.