an Unlikely Hero

Passion and purpose are sometimes hidden from view by the complexities of the world and the daily stresses of our lives. They reveal themselves when we are ready, through serendipitous experiences that cement our belief that this is what we are meant to be doing. For Brolin, it was a constant evolution, but his passion was sparked in 2004 when he was 12 years old and saw snow for the first time.

Uganda and Wyoming are roughly the same size in square miles, yet you can count on one hand the amount of times the words Uganda and Wyoming have been used in the same sentence. For Brolin Mawejje, however, his destiny would be shaped by the intersection of these two vastly different cultures and environments.

Brolin was born in 1992 in Kampala, Uganda but currently claims Jackson, WY as his home. Over the past ten years, Brolin’s unique journey has taken him from Uganda to the U.S. and around the world as he rides under his home country’s flag in pursuit of qualifying for the 2018 Winter Olympics. If he can pull it off, he will become the first rider to ever represent an African country in any discipline of snowboarding in the Winter Games.

As a young boy in Uganda, Brolin quickly learned two things about his country: it is wet and it is hot. He awoke early to beat the scorching sun as he walked the five kilometers to school every day. The classroom provided a sanctuary where he could explore the depths of his mind, hungry for knowledge. In primary school, grades were a hot topic as the teacher regularly ranked students’ performance from first to last for the whole school to see. Brolin was a natural competitor and his goal was to always be at the top. Anything else would result in drastic consequences from a father who ruled with an iron fist and believed that education was the key to anything remotely tied to the idea of success.

At home, Brolin was given the same chore routine that you might expect to be handed out to a rancher’s son in the Western U.S. Sweeping the foyer, washing dishes with the little water that was gathered from the village well, and plucking chickens became some of his main duties. To make sense of the world we rely on many different kinds of information. A child perceives reality through experience with no outer knowledge of the world at large. Brolin’s reality was school and chores with his only notion of a world outside Kampala being what he saw on TV in the shopkeeper’s window where recordings of The Brady Bunch played on repeat.

Brolin’s mother had moved to the U.S. when he was less than two years old. He grew up thinking he was devoid of a mother, however, she was spending her time working in Boston as a hospice nurse saving up to bring her to children to the states. It took her ten years to find the resources to bring her children over to the U.S but, in 2007, a 12-year-old Brolin boarded a plane bound for the U.S. and his life changed forever.

PART TWO: Jackson

a Wild Spirit

In the world of big mountain snowboarding and skiing, there is one mountain that always takes the cake. A place that holds onto the spirit of the Wild West, something free and unbroken that exists at its core. That place is Jackson Hole and it has become a breeding ground for some of the world’s best free riders… but it wasn’t always like that.

A culture clash existed when Jackson Hole first opened its doors in 1965. Flocks of wealthy people started finding their way to the valley and were not always embraced in a welcoming manner by the local residents. Then came the ski bums who invaded the town with long hair and bright colors. The cowboys were less than amused. Over time, tensions waned and Jackson Hole found a way to hold onto its Western culture and develop into one of the world’s largest ski destinations.

Brolin ended up in Jackson, Wyoming in 2011 where he stuck out like a sore thumb. His roots in snowboarding had humble beginnings, honing his skills on the icy hills of Massachusetts. Brolin’s initial years in the U.S. were capricious times as he strived to navigate an entirely new culture. At school Brolin was an anomaly, floating through a world where every turn he took seemed to leave him alienated and alone. He began to identify most with the subculture that skateboarding and snowboarding reflected. He was soon spending all the warm months skateboarding and the winters finding every opportunity he could to snowboard with little supervision from his mother. Snowboarding provided an unlikely sanctuary for Brolin, forcing him into the moment. Covered head to toe in outerwear, Brolin felt like he was the same as everyone on the hill. No one could hear his accent or see that he was different.

Through the friends he made in the east coast snowboarding community, Brolin began riding in Vermont and New Hampshire exposing him to bigger mountains and better terrain. When his best friend and their family decided to move to Jackson Hole, they offered an invitation for Brolin to join them which he eagerly accepted. Jackson Hole offered Brolin a fresh start and a unique setting for the young African snowboarder to hone his skills. In high school, Brolin held the proud title of the only black student in the entire school, but his experience was the complete opposite of what he went through in Boston. The community in Jackson embraced Brolin for his differences and raised him up as one of their own. Just like the origin story of the resort, it was Brolin embracing his differences that made people fall in love with him and this began to translate into his riding.

Brolin’s competitive pursuits materialized through his involvement with the Jackson Hole Ski and Snowboard Team. Under the guidance of Jeff Moran, Brolin traveled all over the northwest and got a taste of competitive snowboarding. The JH Freeride team has birthed some of the greats of snowboarding, from our unsung hero Travis Rice to the “Prince of the Backcountry” Blake Paul, so Brolin was in good company. The expansive terrain in Jackson gave Brolin the opportunity to explore all aspects of snowboarding by not being restricted solely to the park and pipe. The subtleties that go with making you a great snowboarder are all in your approach and riding in Jackson taught Brolin how to feel with his board first. Wyoming has an incredible way of attaching itself to your soul and he grew into himself in this unlikely setting. The serendipity of the situation began to play into a bigger vision that would materialize over the coming years.


a Wild Spirit

Brolin is currently 24 years old and has returned to Uganda every year for the past four years. He never dreamt that he would be welcomed back to his country with open arms as his countrymen fall in love with his journey bring in Uganda into the spotlight of a sport it would otherwise amiss.

These Olympic ambitions materialized in 2012 while Brolin was attending Westminster College in Salt Lake City and he, with a group of friends, started making a documentary chronicling his life story and ambitions. The response and support to the film, Far From Home, cemented a belief in Brolin that his opportunity to ride in the Olympics for Uganda was a worthy pursuit. But Brolin’s only memories of Uganda were that from the lens of child. He remembered his father as a towering figure, memories of teachers lashing out with beating sticks when he would get a question wrong, and life without a mother. There was a fear of helplessness that flooded his memories when he thought of returning to Uganda and an unrealistic fear that he would never be able to leave the country.

However, Brolin was motivated by something that existed deep within himself to return to his country. His goal was to return to Uganda with a new perspective and the realization that his childhood had played a major role into making him into the man he is today. Along with a goal to create the first ski federation in Uganda in order to ride under the Ugandan flag in all FIS sanctioned competitions and start his road to 2018. Many have said that Brolin’s pursuit of riding in the Olympics is a risk, which is true. There are no guarantees in life and even less in snowboarding. So why then does he pursue this road with such confidence and ferocity? When I asked him this question he was silent for a few seconds, but I already knew what his answer would be.

“In life, we are constantly faced with choices that place us in uncomfortable situations. Choices where the outcome is unknown and it is only our self-belief that pushes us forward. When I was a young boy, moving to America was not my choice but those initial years were some of the hardest of my life. I was constantly afraid and unsure of myself but as I continued to put myself in uncomfortable situations those feelings slowly disappeared and were replaced by confidence. Looking back on those years, they are now the ones I am most grateful for because they pushed me to grow and when I moved to Jackson it provided the setting to internalize that growth. I look at my snowboarding pursuits and the road to the Olympics in a similar way. Returning to Uganda and urging the government to support my bid for 2018 was a choice I had. I did not know what the outcome would be, but I knew I had to go for it. With the Olympics, I cannot guarantee that I will make it. What I do know is that I will come out of this a better human being and I only hope that my journey will push others to take a step towards a new challenge or dream they have. Ultimately, going for it is the only way we find out what we are capable of.”

Brolin Mawejje

In November of 2015 Uganda was officially sanctioned by the FIS as a new ski federation, giving Brolin the opportunity to compete under the Ugandan flag for the first time in history. What I took away from Brolin’s response to my question is quite simple. To fully experience the limits of what this world has to offer and what our capabilities as humans are, we have to face adversity. Without struggle we stay the same and fail to grow. Courage means moving forward even when you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel. We all go through hard times, but how we react to them dictates the type of person we become. There are limits to our dreams, but it’s limits we put on ourselves. Here’s to #Brolin2018.

Phil Hessler (Writer, Filmmaker, Snowboarder, and Brolin’s brother)


Chances to qualify

Days to the Olympics