Finishing the Race


They Sent Me to Finish

The Olympic Games, Mexico, 1968. The marathon is the final event on the program. The Olympic stadium is packed and there is excitement as the first athlete, an Ethiopian runner, enters the stadium. The crowd erupts as he crosses the finish line.

Way back in the field is another runner, John Stephen Akwhari of Tanzania. He has been eclipsed by the other runners. After 30 kilometers his head is throbbing, his muscles are aching and he falls to the ground. He has serious leg injuries and officials want him to retire, but he refuses. With his knee bandaged Akwhari picks himself up and hobbles the remaining 12 kilometers to the finish line. An hour after the winner has finished Akwhari enters the stadium. All but a few thousand of the crowd have gone home. Akwhari moves around the track at a painstakingly slow pace, until finally he collapses over the finish line.

It is one of the most heroic efforts of Olympic history. Afterward, asked by a reporter why he had not dropped out, Akwhari says, “My country did not send me to start the race. They sent me to finish.”

Source: reported on Sydney 2000 Olympics website

The Special Olympics

Joni Erickson Tada is the president of JET ministries, a ministry which aims to serve the disabled. She is herself a quadriplegic. A few years ago she was a spectator at the Los Angeles Special Olympics. Her husband Ken was the coordinator for track and field events. Joni was among a large crowd watching the participants prepare for the 50 metres running race.

The starter’s gun fired and off the contestants raced. As they rushed toward the finish line one boy left the track and started running toward his friends standing in the infield. Ken blew his whistle, trying to get the boy to come back to the track, but all to no avail.

Then one of the other competitors noticed, a down syndrome girl with thick bottle glasses. She stopped just short of the finish line and called out to the boy, “Stop, come back, this is the way.”  Hearing the voice of her friend the boy stopped and looked. “Come back, this is the way” she called. The boy stood there, confused. His friend, realising he was confused, left the track and ran over to him. She linked arms with him and together they ran back to the track and finished the race. They were the last to cross the line, but were greeted by hugs from their fellow competitors and a standing ovation from the crowd.

The downs syndrome girl with the bottle glasses taught everyone present that day an important life lesson, that it’s important to take time out form our own goals in life to help others find their way. Reflecting on the episode afterwards Ken was reminded of some verses from Romans 15:

We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up . . . May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.

Source: reported in Joni Erickson Tada, “It’s Called Unity”, found at joniandfriends.org

Christ is with Us

The great American civil rights leader Martin Luther King was a person with tremendous courage. He endured vilification, beatings, imprisonments, death threats, his house was firebombed, and as we all know, he eventually was assassinated.

So what kept him going? It was his strong sense of God’s call upon his life. King was just 26 years old when he was appointed leader of the civil rights campaign in Montgomery, Alabama. Apart from terrifying threats from the Ku Klux Klan, King was harassed by police. Arrested for driving 5 miles per hour over the speed limit he was given his first stint in jail. The night after his release he was at home when the phone rang. “Nigger”, said a menacing voice on the other end, we are tired of you and your mess now. And if you aren’t out of this town in three days, we’re going to blow your brains out and blow up your house.”

King was unnerved and very afraid – for himself, for his wife and for his little children. Shortly after the phone call he sat at his kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee. “And I sat at that table” he said, “thinking about that little girl and thinking about the fact that she could be taken away from me at any minute. And I started thinking about a dedicated, devoted and loyal wife, who was over there asleep…And I got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I was weak…

And I discovered then that religion had to become real to me, and I had to know God for myself. And I bowed down over that cup of coffee. I will never forget it…I said, ‘Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I think I’m right. I think the cause we represent is right. But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now. I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage…And it seemed to me at that moment that I could hear an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world.’…I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone. No never alone.. No never alone. He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone.”

Three nights later the menacing threat made in the phone call came true: a bomb exploded on the front verandah of the King home. Thankfully no one was hurt. But King was able to get through it: “My religious experience a few nights before had given me strength to face it.” Time and again throughout his ministry Martin Luther King returned to that experience to strengthen him as he faced terrible difficulties.

Derek Redmond Finishes at the Olympics

It was the summer Olympics of 1992. It was the quarter finals of the 400 metre sprint. British athlete Derek Redmond was one of the favourites for the gold medal. A lifetime of training had brought him to this moment. The starters gun fired and the athletes burst out of the blocks.

Halfway through the race Derek Redmond was leading. Then disaster struck. His hamstring went and he collapsed on the track. The agony on his tear streaked face was both physical and mental. It was a crushing blow.

Medical attendants ran to assist him. Derek waved them away. He came to race and he was going to finish. He got to his feet and started hobbling down the track.

The crowd was mesmerised. Officials didn’t know what to do. And then an older man ran onto the track. He brushed off officials who tried to stop him. He ran up beside Derek and placed his arms around him.

The man was Derek Redmond’s father, Jim.

“You don’t have to do this son” Jim said.

“Yes I do” Derek replied.

“Then we’ll finish this race together” came the response from Derek’s father.

Arm in arm, with agony on Derek’s face, tears on his father’s, Derek and Jim continued down the track. Derek buried his face in his father’s shoulder. His father’s strong shoulders carried his son physically and emotionally. Jim waved away officials who tried to stop them.

Finally, accompanied by a now roaring crowd, standing on their feet and applauding, Derek Redmond crossed the line. It became the defining moment of the Barcelona Olympics.