Despite injuries and injustices, Brolin Mawejje seeks to ride above
Brolin Mawejje has a goal. He wants to be the first slopestyle snowboarder to ride in the Olympics for his native country, Uganda. Mawejje grew up outside of Kampala, Uganda before moving to Massachusetts at the age of 12. That’s when he found snowboarding and his [adopted] family, the Hessler’s.
When he was 16, his family moved to Jackson, Wyoming, setting his snowboarding career in motion. Brolin’s story was initially documented in the 2014 film, Far From Home. Brolin and his brothers Phillip, Jimmy, and Jack Hessler collaborated on the movie, which was later sold to Red Bull.
This season, Brolin is focusing on qualifying for slopestyle in the 2022 Olympics in Beijing, China. He is self-funding his journey by working as an insurance broker during the non-winter months. “I’m trying to make my snowboarding adventures happen,” he says.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and setbacks from injuries, Brolin remains positive. “This past summer would have been the beginning of qualification for the Southern Hemisphere, but because of COVID, everyone is in the same boat. Competition is a little bit up in the air, so the goal is to be in shape and be able to globally access whatever competition I need to,” says Brolin. “My biggest objective is making sure that not only do I resume being back on snow full-time, but I also need to be able to attend the World Championships in China in March.” COVID-19 has made Brolin’s quest to reach the Olympics more uncertain. “I’ve put my whole life, money, energy, blood, sweat, and tears into being able to fulfill this dream and at least coming close enough to make it a reality and maybe being able to leave a path for somebody else to finish. It’s not over yet,” he says.
“For me 2020 is just kind of a definition of the entirety of my whole life, just feeling like you’re on the edge, and being able to adapt,” says Brolin. He adds, “Where I started off life and where I’m at right now has prepared me to understand that at every corner I’m ready to adapt and adjust.”
On March 4, 2020, Brolin fell during a World Cup Competition, “I had grade four AC separation and messed up my shoulder; three days later I had surgery, and a day after surgery, the whole country shut down. So for me, COVID didn’t change much in thinking about what am I missing on snow, but really utilizing the time to come back stronger than ever,” Brolin explains.
This is Brolin’s second attempt at qualifying for the Winter Olympics. In 2018, he was 15 points away, until a health scare in Kazakhstan sidelined him from competition.
“My heart beats very slow, mainly because I went from living at sea level to living in the mountains for the last 15 years, so my body adapted and my system slowed down,” says Brolin. “They were looking for my heartbeat but could only hear it every other beat so they thought I had a hole in my heart. They gave me amphetamines to try to increase my heart pumping capacity. While everyone is a hummingbird, I’m like a sleeping bear. So they shot my heart into a compulsive heart attack,” he says.
“Simply, it was a misunderstanding of African American anatomy and how my body works,” says Brolin. Instead of viewing this potentially life-ending experience as negative, he instead pushed onward. “I utilized a bad situation into a good situation. I went back and got my master’s in Epidemiology and a couple of years later, the world had a pandemic that requires epidemiologists, so it’s kind of funny.”
His experience in Kazakhstan exemplifies the inequality black people face in all facets of society—including healthcare.
Along with the pandemic, 2020 has seen a revived discussion about racial injustices, particularly in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. “The truth is, from the Black community; there is nothing new being screamed,” says Brolin, “It’s very apparent and very evident—I’ve run into racism, whether it’s nationally or internationally, by being not only the only African but also the only person of color [at snowboard events]. That feels [like you] need to toe and walk the right line.”
As a Black athlete in a sport dominated by white riders, racism is something Brolin has dealt with his entire career. “It is who I am. I can’t run away from the fact that I’m Black, but I also can’t run away from the fact that I have benefitted and utilized what I like to call my thick skin,” he says. “Having come from such hardship to have somebody look at my skin color, I laugh in their face, especially if we are on the same mountain together because you have completely missed the point: I’ve made it to your mountain.”
Brolin is acutely aware of his position in history and conscious of his own level of privilege. “I’m excited to be a Black man in 2021. Definitely, life would have been different even 10 years ago, 20 years ago, especially 40 or 50 years ago,” he explains.
“A lot of talk can happen, but change is a funny thing, you really got to see it to believe it. It was positive to be able to see a lot of communication on injustices and inequality not only coming from a lot of people like myself, who are Black athletes, but also from some of our peers within the industry and community, to see it coming from people who have not experienced it, but who are recognizing and accepting that the ladder is just not the same.”
He explained this metaphorical ladder in terms of his own experiences, “For someone of the opposite race, the ladder and the path is completely different. One person is climbing a hill; the other person is climbing a mountain.”
“My goal is to try to just utilize the platform that I have to say that whether you’re an African, an immigrant, or a Black kid, you might be in an industry with a lot of people that don’t look like you, but don’t allow that to deter you from finding your true self and expressing that,” he said.
Brolin Mawejje currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, but Jackson Hole will always be his home mountain. He is sponsored by JHMR and Bombas apparel. He is self-funding his journey to the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. @thebyron_ma