Even though he lives more than 7,000 miles away and doesn't speak the language, Lincoln Murdoch of Omaha has become an honorary coach for the Afghan Cycling Team.
The 56-year-old international triathlon champion earned the position simply because he had the desire to help.
"I was planning a visit to Afghanistan so I picked up an Afghan newspaper and I noticed an article about the national cycling team,” he said. “I started researching it and wrote a letter to their coach. He was open to a meeting."
After Murdoch represented Team USA during the 2013 World Triathlon Grand Final in London in September, placing in the top 10 of his age group, he flew to Afghanistan.
He arranged a meeting with the war-torn country's national cycling team. Murdoch said he was intrigued by the Afghans trying to compete internationally.
"They've never been to the Olympics,” he said. “I wanted to hear about their hopes and dreams for the team."
Murdoch has been visiting Afghanistan annually for the last five years to visit friends who work at the International School of Kabul.
“I've come to love the Afghan people and their culture," he said.
Michelle Bandur, TV Media Program chairwoman at Iowa Western Community College, blogs occasionally for livewellnebraska.com. Contact her at email@example.com.
Because of Murdoch's familiarity with the country, the endurance athlete had no reservations about meeting the coach and cycling team on their soil.
When Murdoch arrived, he met with an interpreter and the team of 11 cyclists before they headed out for a training ride.
"I wondered where they were going to ride because it's bedlam in the city of Kabul," he said. "There are no lines (on the roads), no lights. The traffic is crazy and some roads are in bad shape from explosions."
Similar to the strategy of cyclists in Nebraska and Iowa, the team headed outside of town to open roads and less traffic.
Murdoch coached the cyclists on basic skills such as bike handling. He showed them how to keep their cadence and worked on strength and resistance exercises. He showed them how to mix up their workouts to incorporate hill work, intervals and speed work rather than just going out for a ride. He also gave them tips on nutrition and told them the importance of eating at least 200 calories every hour they're on the bike.
"Since they are road cyclists they need to learn how to work as a team rather than every man for himself," Murdoch said.
Believe it or not, Murdoch said it's not tough to communicate with the Afghan Cycling Team because they share a love of cycling and competing.
One thing that stood out to Murdoch was that the team was in dire need of updated equipment.
"The bikes were really outdated, super heavy and made of steel,” he said. “Some didn't have water bottle holders, helmets or bike shoes."
Murdoch said those are the essentials needed not only to train, but to race and compete at any level.
Murdoch stayed in the van while the nine men and two women rode their bikes. Murdoch called the women cyclists brave.
"It's inappropriate for a woman to sit on a bike and ride a bike in that culture," he said.
And on that day, it caused problems for the team. Murdoch recalled how a police officer from an outpost came over to see what they were doing. Shortly after, three Afghan soldiers armed with rifles showed up.
Murdoch and the others knew the officer and soldiers were upset that there were women on bicycles. The women cyclists were even covered head to toe, wearing long sleeves and scarves over their heads under their helmets.
"The culture runs deep there," Murdoch said.
Eventually, Murdoch said the coach and interpreter talked the officer and soldiers down and the training continued with all of the team members, including the women.
Murdoch said the women spoke some English, were educated and wanted to express themselves. One woman on the team had even competed internationally in cycling.
That's becoming more common as more Afghan women show interest in cycling. There country even has a national women's cycling team that was recently formed. A documentary called, "Afghan Cycles," plans to highlight the women's team and its challenges when it's released this year.
"They have the same desires as American women athletes -- to see what you can do, how far you can go and to shatter stereotypes," Murdoch said.
Murdoch plans to return to Afghanistan and help the Afghan Cycling Team reach its goals of competing internationally. He's accepting donations for the team and is looking for team sponsors.
Murdoch said he feels a connection to the team and wants to do what he can for the members regardless of cultural differences and the thousands of miles between them.
"The desire and the drive is the same," he said.
If you would like more information or would like to donate, email Lincoln Murdoch at firstname.lastname@example.org.