By DRAKE LOHSE
Thursday morning the snow fell in Iowa the way it has all winter, big thick flakes that smack you in the face. It’s mornings like these that Cloud Masibhera and Leo Maguranyanga say they miss Zimbabwe the most.
“It reminds me of one the first days we were here together,” Maguranyanga said.“We were at the Bell Center, and it started snowing just like this. Cloud looks at me and says ‘let’s get back to the dorm,’ and I say ‘bro, let’s get back to Zimbabwe.”
“We both almost started crying,” a laughing Masibhera said.
The two stayed and they’ve dominated ever since. Cloud won the long jump event at the 2018 MVC Indoor Championships, after finishing fourth in the triple jump. On February 24th, at the 2019 MVC Championship in Cedar Falls, Maguranyanga became the first Bulldog to sweep the sprint titles since 2001.
Although the two friends share their careers at Drake,this story doesn’t start in Des Moines. It starts on a sweltering Zimbabwe day in 2016, where the future roommates met for the first time.
“I remember the first time that we met we were still both in Zimbabwe,” Masibhera said. “We were going for a meet in Lesotho representing our country in 2016. Leo was in the 4×100 relay team. He was like the slowest runner on the relay. I was a long jumper and I was even faster than him, and everyone just wondered how he made it on the team. People always looked down on him because his high school was not part of the bigger track and field teams.”
“Yeah,” Leo said. “It wasn’t good.”
The future Drake standout wasn’t going to let early obstacles impede a road to glory.
“Track is a big sport in Zimbabwe, in Africa, but at the school I went to wasn’t really known as a track school,” Maguranyanga said. “When I started out I was the only one running. My physics teacher there, he pulled me aside and said ‘you want to do this, let’s do it right.’ He took me out to a river not far from the school and had me run up-stream. He filled a tire with sand and had me push it. We had to be creative, because we didn’t have all the equipment that we do now.”
The resistance of the river and Leo’s dedication paid off, according to Cloud.
“He made the Zimbabwean national team in 2017 and went to Algeria that year and scooped a silver medal in the 200m,” Masibhera said. “He won a lot of competitions that year scoring at every meet in the 100m and 200m.”
By 2018, Maguranyanga had secured a scholarship to Drake and arrived on campus soon after. It wasn’t long before his old running mate showed up. Both Masibhera and Maguranyanga donned the blue and white for Drake Track that year.
Before the two could set records, or win championships, they would need to make the transition to American life.
“Everything was different,” Masibhera said. “Being roommates really made the difference. At the end of the
Maguranyanga sat beside his friend, nodding in that nostalgic way.
“And everything about the approach to the sport at this level is different too,” Maguranyanga said.“Back in Zimbabwe, where we didn’t have the equipment we have here, it was always, like ‘run until you can’t.’ There were a couple of times where we ran with torn hamstrings and stuff. We just didn’t know, but that’s part of what got us here I think. But here it’s more calculated, more slow, with a lot more caution and preparation placed on taking care of the body and recovery.”
“It’s hard to sit still on the slow days,” Masibhera said.
When the two couldn’t find each other, they had another familiar face to help ease the transition. Drake assistant sprint coach Ngonidzashe Makusha joined the Drake track and field staff in 2017, and has competed internationally since 2012. Makusha’s success at the international level came primarily in the long jump, where he finished fourth in the 2008 Olympics representing his native Zimbabwe. Makusha owns the Zimbabwe national records in both the 100 meters (9.89) and long jump (8.40m/27-6.75).
“He really pushed us not just in track, but out of track,” Masibhera said. “Always telling us how important making friends is, making sure we were getting out there and experiencing being young and in college.”
“He’s been like another father to us,” Maguranyanga said.
At the Indoor Championships in February, Maguranyanga said it was more advice from Coach Makusha that helped him achieve what he did. Maguranyanga has a tendency to talk, jump, get all out-hyper before races, he says, the more nervous he gets.
“He told me to stop being so dramatic,” Maguranyanga said.
Maguranyanga took the advice to heart. He set the school record on Saturday, Feb. 23 in the 60m qualifying heats, with the time of 6:73.
The next day, Maguranyanga would run in the race that has come to define his career thus far, but not before receiving an ominous warning from his subconscious.
“That night (Saturday), I had the worst dream,” said Leo, “I had a dream that I took second in the race, and I woke up just sweating and so nervous.”
Leo bounced the dream off his roommate.“Cloud helped me flip it around, helped me use it as motivation, told me that it was just my brain playing tricks on me.”
Maguranyanga went on to win the 60m with a time of 6:78, storming back to win after a slow start. In the 200m, the sophomore found himself behind again early, and even twisted his ankle in the final stretch. But once again, found himself receiving external motivation, this time from an unlikely source. Maguranyanga met with Carmelita Jeter, the three-time Olympic gold medalist, prior to Sunday’s race. And as he rounded the corner, needing one last push, an Olympic voice called out from the crowd.What did that voice say?
“She yelled ‘run, baby, run!’ I swear,” Maguranyanga said.
“I still don’t believe him,” Masibhera laughed.
Maguranyanga went on to win in fashion, finishing with a time of 21.37. The feat added to a successful weekend for Drake Track, as Viktor Peka finished fourth in the same race, after finishing six spots behind Leo in the 60 meters. Masibhera also earned himself a third-place finish in the triple jump. Cloud recorded a leap of 49-7.75 (15.13m) on his second jump. His jump led the competition until it was surpassed in the final round. But neither Maguranyanga nor Masibhera hold much water in stats or records or history.
“Just like Coach Makusha is always saying,” Maguranyanga said. “If you chase times, life passes you by, so it’s on to the next one. I didn’t even find out about it being the first time since 2001 until today. But all back home, they’re texting me like, ‘bro, how can I get a scholarship to Drake, and I get to tell them, ‘go find the river.’ That’s what I like about accomplishing stuff like this, not a time or a record or anything like that.”
Cloud and Leo will face a lot of training and slow days over the next couple of weeks. The Drake Men’s Track outdoor season doesn’t kickoff until March 29. when the team hosts the Jim Duncan Invitational. Following the strong performance in Cedar Falls, the two agree that they feel a wave of motivation in light of the recent success. They’ve doubled down in training sessions, and are even staying in Des Moines for Spring Break. In the meantime, the roommates are still taking time to discuss dreams.
“We talk all the time about where we want this thing to go,” Maguranyanga said., “About where we’ve been and how we got here. We want the Olympics. We want to be contenders that are remembered, we want this to be like one of those Avengers movies. Drake [athletics] right now, we’re like this lion that’s been asleep for a long time, and we’re just getting ready to roar again.”
Photo by Hannah Cohen | Staff Photographer