Far From Home : Uganda To The Tetons, Brolin Mawejje’s Story
Brolin Mawejje is a snowboarder from a most unusual place, the landlocked Republic of Uganda in East Africa. He spent his early childhood living with his father and seven siblings in a poor and crowded city. At the age of twelve he made the journey to America by himself to meet his mother, who he hadn’t seen since since he was two.
He immediately became best friends with Phil Hessler who’s family took him in as one of their own. The Hessler family soon moved to Jackson Wyoming and took Brolin with them where his passion for snowboarding grew, along with his talent as a competitive snowboarder. Now he’s a pre-med student at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, competitive shredder, and the subject of a documentary produced and directed by Phil Hessler and fellow Westminster student Galen Knowles, aimed at making it to the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.
His story is an inspiring and unique one, and it’s really cool to see his passion for snowboarding and what it did for him firsthand. For more info on Brolin’s story, checkout the Far From Home teaser and preview of his most recent visit to Uganda, and also checkout his TED Talk and the website for Far From Home the movie.
We setup an exclusive interview with Brolin to find out a little more about what he’s up to right now, check it out.
When did you first hear about snowboarding?
I first heard about snowboarding when I moved to the US in 2004 when I was eleven. I had never seen snow before and I arrived in the middle of January in Boston. I was fascinated by this type of weather. It was hard trying to fit in for those first few years, but the first friend I ever made in America was an avid snowboarder, he was the one who introduced me.
Where was the fist place you went snowboarding?
The first place I went snowboarding at was Nashoba Valley in Westford, MA. I joined an after school program that would take kids snowboarding and skiing after school. My mom worked nights as a nurse so I was alone a lot of the time. Snowboarding filled the void.
What was it about snowboarding that really hooked you? What separated it from other sports and activities?
For a long time I felt out of place and alone in America. Snowboarding was the one place where I felt like I belonged. It was more than just the act of snowboarding for me. It provided a place to escape and live in the present moment. It helped me find friends and grow as a person. Ultimately, it helped me find a family.
When did you move to Jackson? What was it like going from the Ice Coast to Jackson hole in such a short period of knowing snowboarding?
I moved to Jackson in 2009 with my best friend Phil Hessler and his family. I was going through a hard time in Boston and didn’t have a stable place to live. Through snowboarding, Phil and I became friends and I basically started spending all my time at his house with his family. So when they moved they extended the invitation for me to join.
In the beginning, trying to ride in Jackson was a struggle. I couldn’t keep up with Phil and his younger brothers Jack & Jimmy. It was just such a huge change from a few hundred feet of vertical in Mass to massive mountains. I was lucky to become a part of the Jackson Snowboard Team in high school and had the opportunity to ride nearly everyday. I was exposed to an amazing community in Jackson from the coaches to riders like Blake Paul and Cam Fitzpatrick. Just being a part of that crowd helped develop my confidence on a board.
What’s it like going to med school and trying to be a competitive snowboarder at the same time? When do you plan on finishing school?
It definitely gets hard to balance both dreams and it is something I still struggle with. I often practice flashcards while on the lift at Park City. I’ll be done with my undergrad public health degree in 2015. My plan is to defer from med school to focus on snowboarding for 3 years up to 2018 and then go to med school after that.
Is one of your goals to still make it to the Olympics?
I never started snowboarding with the intent to represent Uganda in the Olympics. When we started Far From Home two years ago as group of friends with no idea what we we’re doing, we just wanted to tell my story. The project quickly grew and the opportunity to pursue representing Uganda in 2018 became a possibility. Looking at it now, I think it would be stupid for me not to do my best to make that opportunity to reality. Snowboarding to me is so much more than trying to get to the Olympics, but if I can inspire people in situations similar to mine then it is worth it.
When you told people in Uganda about wanting to represent your country in the Winter Olympics as a snowboarder what did they say?
A lot of people in Uganda had never heard of snowboarding and most have never seen snow. Honestly, I was blown away by the support that we received there. We we’re able to meet with the Olympic Committee and a lot of press who were totally taken and open to the idea. It’s up to me to make it happen but Uganda will support me.
Do you hear a lot of Cool Runnings jokes?
Too many to count.
Do you have any goals for this winter? Are you gonna be filming at all?
My ultimate goal for this Winter is to spend as much time as possible on my board and grow as a rider. I’m going to be competing in Rev Tours and also filming a lot with my brothers.
It’s funny looking back on growing up in Uganda and what life was like then compared to what it is now. My plan is to take this dream as far as possible and just show people it really doesn’t matter where you come from. Whatever you put your mind to you can find a way to make it work. I have a long road ahead as a snowboarder but it is still just snowboarding!
Oh yeah, and look out for Far From Home which will start premiering this Winter. Tour dates will be announced atwww.farfromhomemovie.com.