In the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, runner John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania finished last. But there’s more to the story.
Akhwari was one of the world’s best long distance runners. But having never trained at high altitudes, several miles into the race he began to cramp. Then approaching the halfway point, he became entangled with some other runners and fell hard to the pavement. The impact dislocated his right knee and jammed his right shoulder.
Akhwari, now battling back pain, gathered himself and continued running far behind the pack.
Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia won the race in 2:20:26. The crowd cheered. The medals were awarded.
More than an hour later after the sun had set and most fans had already departed, Akhwari staggered through the tunnel into the stadium. ABC quickly powered up the cameras. The small crowd stood and applauded as Akhwari summoned the strength to complete the closing lap around the track-then crossed the finish line.
A few minutes later, an interviewer asked the Tanzanian why he had kept going. Akhwari answered: “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race. They sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.” More than half a century later, people remember only two competitors from that marathon, Wolde and Akhwari.
It’s not how you start that matters. What matters is how you finish.
Perhaps one of the most famous passages of scripture is 2 Timothy 4:7, which the Apostle Paul apparently wrote within sight of his personal finish line. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race and I have kept the faith.”
God did not send us into the world to be spectators. God has not called us to drop out of the race when life gets hard.
It’s been a tough year. You may have suffered a fall or maybe even had COVID or some other illness. I know it’s been a long year not seeing loved ones except through the window of your room.
But the race isn’t over. Get back up.
Ron Naylor, Chaplain