The Greatest Last Place Finish Ever!

I wanted to share this story of John Stephen Akhwari, an African runner representing Tanzania in the 1968 Olympics.  I share this with you because it seems to me that we have become a society that thinks if I can’t win than why bother, either I won’t even try or I’ll just quit if it gets too hard.  I believe sports is such a good metaphor for life.   Starting and then finishing what we started is real winning in sports and in life.  It has become too easy to quit.  We would do well to remember  John Stephen Akhwari who epitomized for us back in 1968 what it means to finish the race.  He honored his commitment to both himself and his country when he finished the race and as a result he was a winner in the hearts of people around the world.

In the 1968 Mexico City Olympic games, a young African runner from Tanzania, named John Stephen Akhwari, would compete in the last event of the games – the 26 mile, 385 yard marathon. Although he would ultimately finish last, nearly an hour behind the rest of the runners, he would nonetheless finish the race and in doing so deliver a finish that will be remembered long after the winner has been forgotten. Early in the race he suffered a bad a fall but he got up and kept running. Now running on a badly injured leg, and knowing full well that he was out of the competition, a voice called from within to go on, and so he went on. The other runners would reach the finish line nearly an hour before Akhwari.

When Akhwari did finally approach the stadium, it was nearly empty.  As he entered the stadium the meager crowd rose to their feet and began cheering. Photographers scrambled to set up cameras they had long stowed away, barely managing to capture one of the greatest finishes in Olympics history.Afterwards, it was written, “Today we have seen the young African runner who symbolizes the finest in the human spirit. A performance that gives true dignity to sport. A performance that lifts sport out of the category of grown men playing at games. A performance that gives meaning to the word courage. All honor to John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania. Perhaps the words of John Stephen Akhwari epitomize all that is right in the human spirit. When asked why he did not quit, he said simply ‘My country did not send 5000 miles to start the race, they sent me 5000 miles to finish the race!’

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