My country did not send me five thousand miles to start the race, but to finish the race. What a statement! What an inspiration! What patriotism!


History records of a former Tanzanian marathon runner. The setting is the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. The protagonist – John Stephen Akhwari. The drama begins; the protagonist had gone to represent his country, Tanzania in an Olympic Marathon. He had no training on how to run in high altitude. The result was a cramp he suffered as the competition progressed. As the race reached a 19-kilometre point out of the 42 kilometres to be covered; and as competitors contended for position, John was hit. He fell and was badly wounded. Mark the phrase ‘badly wounded’. He was not just badly wounded; he had a knee dislocation and his shoulder hit really hard on the pavement. The natural thing to do in such a situation is to stop. The drama continues, John Akhwari did the unthinkable-he got up, dusted himself and continued the race. Wait a minute, did you say ‘continued the race?’ Yes, he did.

Finally, he was the last among the fifty-seven competitors to reach the finishing line. A total of seventy-five competitors actually started the race. Record shows that he finished the race with the time of 3hrs, 25minutes and27seconds. That was about 1hour and 5minuts after the winner who was an Ethiopian reached the finishing line. Of course, he must have been limping as he reached the finishing line. In fact, he was virtually crawling. You will want to ask, was there anybody left by the time he arrived? The answer is yes. Crossing the finishing line, there were few people to cheer him. Later on, he granted an interview to those who wanted to know why he continued despite the fact that the race had ended before he arrived and he was badly wounded. Listen to his answer “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”

A lecturer once said in an examination class, “If you fail, fail honourably-don’t cheat.”That is one way of finishing a race for your country and not just to start. Publications are replete with stories of people who prefer to commit suicide rather than fail. This group of people is usually referred to as NFA. Don’t misunderstand the acronym. It is not what you think. NFA in this sense means No Future Ambition. A one-time president of a great country in the world is said to have tried in many ways without success but at last, became the President of the United States of America.

Let’s bring this closer home. President Buhari contested not less than four times to become the president of Nigeria. Can you beat that? Some other persons would have said, I think I have tried; let me leave it for the young ones. But no, he persisted. This is not the spirit of the youths of today. I must cheat in any examination just to pass, they say. The end justifies the means, they continue. Have you tried once and fail and decide to give up? John Stephen Akhwari wouldn’t have been a reference point today. Giving up because you did not win or killing to win will not give you any experience.

Look at it this way, do you ride a bicycle? If your answer is yes, was it the first day your foot touched the pedal that you became an expert? The answer is well known to you. How many times have you had the opportunity to serve your country without betraying her? Do you cut corners rather than be a patriot? Have you been accessory before or after the act? When did you stand up for the truth and damned the consequence?

Let’s get back to our story. Seventy-five people started the race. John was among the fifty-seventh that finished the race. What is important? “He finished the race.” Nothing is known of the rest who fell by the wayside. John finished, that is why a story is told about him today and for as long as there is life, his story will continue to be told. The reason is the lesson embedded in the story. Five thousand miles to finish the race not to start it; Don’t start what you cannot finish and don’t stop by the wayside when you start. The lesson is not really starting and finishing or starting and not finishing. The lesson is, patient achieves everything. What is important is persistence. “My country did not send me five thousand miles to start the race; my country sent me five thousand miles to finish the race. Just thinking aloud and I should be allowed.

Richard Akpan is Head of ICT, National Institute for Nigerian Languages, Aba, Abia State

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