My country did not send me 5,000 miles

Categories: Game Changers

“My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”

I heard this quote recently at a conference.  The marathoner is John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania.  I found the background on this story from the 1968 Mexico City Olympics where else but Wikipedia:

“While competing in the marathon in Mexico City, Akhwari cramped up due to the high altitude of the city.  He had not trained at such an altitude back in his country. At the 19 (11.1 mile) kilometer point during the 42 km (26.2 mile) race, there was jockeying for position between some runners and he was hit.  He fell badly wounding his knee and dislocated that joint plus his shoulder hit hard against the pavement.  He however continued running, finishing last among the 57 competitors who completed the race (75 had started).  The winner of the marathon, Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia, finished in 2:20:26.  Akhwari finished in 3:25:27 when there were only a few thousand people left in the stadium, and the sun had set.  A television crew was sent out from the medal ceremony when word was received that there was one more runner about to finish.

As he finally crossed the finish line a cheer came from the small crowd. When interviewed later and asked why he continued running, he said, “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”

We are called to run a race with endurance-with God’s help along the way.  Paul calls us to “run in such a way that you may win it” (I Corinthians 12:1).  Hebrews 12:1 calls us to “run with endurance the race set before us” since we are “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.”  Quite frankly I have seen, over the past three years, several guys from different places in my life in stumble in the race.  They have damaged or ruined their reputations, their professional lives, their family’s lives, and their own lives.  For different reasons they took their eyes off of the prize.

I ran the Marine Corps Marathon October 2003.  The day proved to be warmer than usual.  I had not fully recovered from a running injury and I knew I had to keep my pace down a bit to pull off the race.  The distance between the half way point (13.1) and mile 20 beats you down.  You just run miles, all the historic buildings look alike, and mental/spiritual toughness take over from physical enthusiasm.  I looked around as I hit mile 23 and that place had only a few folks there to cheer runners-but you keep going-for the prize set before you.  The last mile and a half is uphill-but you see the Iwo Jima monument.  You dig deep and you go.  I can easily make the faith connection.  We can focus on “Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) to truly run and win.  He calls us to finish, running in such a way that we truly win.

And if you are interested, here is where John Stephen Akhwari is today.  “(He) has lived for many years in his village with his wife and six children. They are farmers and work very hard in the fields. Once in a while the world beckons him back. He was awarded a National Hero Medal of Honor in 1983.  He lent his name to the John Stephen Akhwari Athletic Foundation, an organization which supports Tanzanian athletes training for the Olympic Games. He was invited to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.  He later appeared in Beijing as a goodwill ambassador in preparation for the 2008 Games.  He was a torchbearer in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on April 13, 2008 for the Olympic torch relay through his country.”