“I Trained Twice a Day and Had to Run 140 km a Week”, Francine Niyonsaba

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Francine Niyonsaba is a famous Burundian athlete who has brought honor to Burundi by representing the country in numerous international competitions where she obtained numerous medals. She comes from Ruyigi province, Bweru commune, Kayongozi zone, Nkanda hill. While many people know her as an athlete, especially the champion who represented Burundi on international level, she proves that to achieve on that level of success wasn’t that easy. She worked hard and courageously, step by step, until she overcame all difficulties.

Ambassador Francine Niyonsaba. ©️Andika

Ambassador Francine Niyonsaba tells us that she grew up without joking. “I think I wasn’t a joking kid because I grew up alone at home. I was with my mother. I used to see her wake up early in the morning to go and farm, to look for food so that we could survive. And then, when I grew up, I wasn’t a kid who joked as much. Even today, I don’t joke unless when it is necessary”, she says.

All is about passion

Since I was a child, I was a hard worker and loved sports because I lived with my cousins. I played children’s games with them when I came home from school or in the evening. I can say, at that time I was doing it for fun,” confides Niyonsaba.

She explains that she early knew her talent of competition racing and that she became definitively passionate about running competitions only though she played different games like football, basketball, handball and volleyball. “Before, as I’ve mentioned, I did it for fun, but now I do it as a job. I remember that when I went to represent Burundi in African Championship that took place in Porto Novo, I went there so as to be qualified for the Olympic Games, and it succeeded even though I was afraid because I was going to meet with other from different countries, well-dressed people while it was not the case for me. I had that complexity in me but I said, I have gone to represent Burundi. I remember well that at that time I won a Silver Medal of African Championship. That day was the 50th anniversary of the celebration of independence », she reveals

Ambassador Francine Niyonsaba. ©️Andika

She adds that at that time, she felt like she was performing miracles because she started hearing many of her acquaintances congratulating her sending messages. “Even when the President welcomed me to his office, I remember entering his office in slippers. I was shy. I even walked out without looking at his face once. You hear it takes a lot of work. I loved doing it at first and practiced it several times. But since I am now a professional athlete, I consider it a job. I remember I trained twice a day and had to run 140 km a week.”

Francine advises young people endowed with different talents, especially athletes, to work hard diligently to bring honor to Burundi as she did. “It is truly an honor to represent the nation. I can say that representing the nation is a serious war. When you represent the nation, you wear the flag of Burundi. All Burundian eyes are on you. You are then under pressure. Then, I think that, to achieve this, nothing is easy. You have to work and be brave and you avoid worrying about things and you decide that no matter how hard it is or not, I have to get through this.

Ambassador Francine Niyonsaba. ©️Andika


Shifting from an 800m race to a race over 5,000m cost her courage, energy and discipline!

As many Burundians and the world know, Francine used to run the 800 m race. Afterwards, she was forced to start running more than 5,000m races. She says the change was very difficult and required more attention and dedication. “It certainly wasn’t easy. I used to run middle distance through which I won my first silver medal in the girls’ championship. I encountered many problems that day. Since the start of my international career, I have gone through challenges but I have not been discouraged, it has strengthened me. After leaving middle distance, I risked quitting and said I couldn’t do it. But I kept saying within me: you never fail before the match. Then, I said I was going to try. It really forced me to change my entire body, my mind, my food and my friends because I had a goal to achieve. I was in the United States of America. I told my coach that I needed to move from the United States to Kenya to train at high altitude with other distance running athletes. I went and it was hard because first I got sick, my legs hurt, I cried and I calmed down and I said whatever it is, I have to try even if it won’t succeed. I have never failed, God sees my courage. I started competing and succeeded. Later, I got into long-distance running », she recounts.

Ambassador Francine Niyonsaba. ©️Andika

Many people may remember that at that time, Burundians watched how Francine challenged others. Since the Burundians saw Francine Niyonsaba win about 4 consecutive competitions, she is waiting for the restrictive measure they took for her and her friends to be able to represent the country again. “In life, it’s not easy. I can say that I defied science because they also established new protocols, the protocols they tell us are violence. In reality it is because there is no proof. But we still fight. For example, they stopped us from running all the race dimensions, but I’m not discouraged. We continue to hope. I believe God is with us and will do it like he did it the first time. I believe that I will represent the country again and I will also bring the medal.

Niyonsaba’s mother was so happy to see her daughter become an international champion

As Francine grew up without joking and was the only child living with her mother, she tells us that although she started athletics at a very young age, her mother didn’t like it. She needed her to study. “When I started she said, ‘I’m angry’. I even wanted to stop because everywhere she went, people told her, “Your child is an idiot,” until when I was running and sweating, I couldn’t stand so people wouldn’t see me sweating. But for God’s sake, I showcased my talent. I got far, even though she was telling me to give up sports claiming I would drop out of school, I said no. I used to hide when I was doing sports but later she became very happy. She is proud of me now.»

Ambassador Francine Niyonsaba. ©️Andika

Why from athletics to health sector?

Besides being an athlete, she now contributes to the healthcare sector. Francine Niyonsaba tells us why she thought of creating NILAB, the laboratory for different diseases. And when asked if athletics have any connection to the health sector, she replied that sports help people to be healthy. “You can’t do sports when you’re unwell. What also motivated me was that I wanted to study medicine but it didn’t work out because I was poor. I said to myself, let me go contribute at home in the medical field. I went to different laboratories and I got angry when I saw that human rights are not taken into consideration. They can examine you but they cannot give you results and you cannot know what it is. But I said I couldn’t do that. I would invest in good equipment and help provide good quality results, credible results that could help doctors treat their patients well.»

Asking her why recently NILAB examines tuberculosis and diabetes for free, she replies that health is crucial for well-being. “I know that not everyone here has access to health exams. Then I had to help people get tests for viral hepatitis B, C and D and we also inserted diabetes. It was to support people who don’t have means. But we welcome everyone because everything is there to support and provide statistics on the extent of hepatitis.”

Ambassador Francine Niyonsaba. ©️Andika

She added that she created NILAB in the city of Bujumbura, but being from Ruyigi province, as soon as she has sufficient means, she will open a NILAB branches in the countryside. “I started here, but as long as we progress because our partners are doctors who record the exams and we give them to them, and we can offer a faster service to a patient so that they can be treated quickly. (Because this laboratory has a big program), we will develop little by little. Note that nothing can stop us from empowering the community where we came from. Even here, the patients who come to be examined do not only come from Bujumbura, they come from all over the country.

Today, when most young people, especially graduates, deplore the fact that there are no jobs, Niyonsaba, as a person who has used her talent with effort and progress, advises the youths to work with courage, to use their talents and to stay away from bad friends. “What I can say is that there is really no jobs now. In fact, the lack of jobs is not only here in our country. But when you are young you have to look for it yourself. I knew I was good at athletics after trying many things: I played soccer/football, volleyball, basketball and handball. The people who would testify would be my former teachers. Then, it’s about getting involved without getting discouraged because you tell yourself that you have to find the way out. If you have a talent, use it. Say: the few things I have will take me far. Also have good friends.


Ambassador Francine Niyonsaba. ©️Andika

Stay away from bad friends because you may be talented, but when you meet bad friends, they may divert you from the right development path. Don’t be discouraged, the future will allow you to save more. When you are young you can think about how this person became successful, how did they do it? To know a little history. But we must prevent emotions, not considering someone’s possessions when we do not know where they have been, but rather knowing what good and bad things they have experienced, which gives us insight. If you have studied, you know that you have to use your mind and do research so that if one thing fails, the other succeeds. You may fall but you get up again. Falling is not bad. But the worst thing is staying on the ground when you fall. »


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