Mudekunye running toward success at Pitt, a long way from African home.

By Randy Lieberman

He moves to the rhythm of a different beat each day.

Whether it’s a song he hears… He moves to the rhythm of a different beat each day.

Whether it’s a song he hears on the radio, or something new concocted in the personal percussion section in his mind, junior Maka Mudekunye always has a new beat bouncing around his head.

Thanks to his other passion, computers, he can convert the reggae and techno beats he invents into tangible rhythms he can play back and listen to.

But the Zimbabwe native said he can’t listen to beats while he runs for Pitt’s track team. They would get in the way, he said, plus the training is too intense to warrant music. It’s just one of the things he’s gotten used to since traveling nearly 8,000 miles away from home to Pitt to run in his best events, the 100- and 200-meter dash.

Mudekunye grew up sprinting for track, as well as for the first sport he loved: rugby.

In Zimbabwe, schools split their year into three semesters. This means three chances at taking a sport as a class after school lets out for the afternoon.

“Sport isn’t a choice — you kind of have to do it,” Mudekunye said. “I started off with first term track. I was pretty good at it, so I figured I would be pretty good at rugby. Second term I did rugby, third term was cricket.”

He copied this pattern from when he began school at age six until he was 18 years old. Cricket became his least favorite — not out of frustration with the sport, but more so out of his success with rugby and track.

Mudekunye earned the prestigious honor of being a national champion three times in Zimbabwe. He won twice in 2005, winning the 100- and 200-meter events, and he won once more in 2006 in the 100-meter.

“It was a big thing. We don’t have as many sports as the U.S. does, so the other sports get a little more attention,” Mudekunye said.

But it wasn’t the national championship that made him most proud. After all, Mudekunye said his high school was expected to win.

“The high school I went to was pretty big on sports,” Mudekunye said, “We had won the national championship for track 14 years in a row, so I guess it’s almost like a tradition. We always work hard.”

It was the chance to break the record of one of his idols growing up that Mudekunye remembers most.

Tonderai Chavhanga, Mudekunye’s hero, is currently the South African record holder for scoring six tries (the equivalent of a touchdown in American football) in one rugby match. He also was a record holder at Prince Edward high school for the fastest time in the 200-meter dash.

That was, until Mudekunye broke his record with a time of 21.52 seconds in the national championship race. However, he didn’t know it then, because almost immediately upon finishing the race, Mudekunye pulled his right hamstring.

Great, he thought, now that track was over rugby was starting. He rehabilitated the best he could, but in the end, went for a makeshift solution.

“I did a lot of rehab, but I played with a lot of strapping and a lot of medication,” Mudekunye said.

It was around this time, during the summer of 2005, he was approached by Munya Maraire from Worldwide Scholarships. The company, Mudekunye said, offered opportunities for athletes overseas to pursue schools and athletics across the world.

Tapes of Mudekunye’s meets were sent to universities all over the United States and received responses from the University of Texas, Northeastern University and Pitt. He turned down an offer to play for a professional club rugby team in South Africa to come to Pitt.

Since then, he has discovered his love for computers. His passion for computers extends beyond music producing. Mudekunye said he loves programming along with the music production on FL Studio.

He wants to take his programming experience and turn it into a job after graduation.

“I want to get into ethical hacking,” Mudekunye said, almost dropping his voice to a whisper as if someone were listening.

He explained, “A bank would employ you to try hacking into the computer systems to see if they have weaknesses. So basically, computer forensics would be a more familiar term.”

Currently, Mudekunye is studying for an exam in the summer to earn a certificate in computer programming that he said will improve his job outlook come graduation time.

“There are a bunch of exams you have to take to get the knowledge, so you study for the exam, take the exam, then you’ll have that certification,” Mudekunye said, “Once you have a certification for a certain thing, you’re allowed to work in that field.”

He plans on working in the United States. But Mudekunye said he hasn’t been home since he left, with his only relatives working in Texas to visit in the summer.

“I really miss people. I miss a lot of friends and family, but it does help that my sisters are in America,” Mudekunye said.

Facebook and Skype have been imperative tools in keeping in touch with friends and family at home. He even shares some of his beats with people at home, just to see what they think.

Other than that, his ears are usually covered, the dull thud of a bass line escaping the headphones. His music gives him a taste of home, with his favorite artists being Axwell, Capleton and Bob Sinclar.

“I guess I always have something playing in my head. It’s kind of nice to put it down and listen to it, play it back,” Mudekunye said, “Sometimes you might work off a song that has a beat you almost like, but you modify it a bit.”