Finish the Race

      Comments Off on Finish the Race

In the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, marathon runner John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania finished last.

But there’s quite a bit more to his story.

Akhwari was one of the world’s best long distance runners.  He had never trained at high altitudes, however, such as those in central Mexico.  Several miles into the marathon, Akhwari 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 significant pain, gathered himself and continued running, falling far behind the pack.

Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia won the race in 2:20:26.  The crowds cheered.  The gold, silver, and bronze medals were awarded.  ABC’s camera crews signed off.

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 their 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, memorably:  “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 a half 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.

Running was held in great respect in the ancient world, and racing appears as a spiritual metaphor in a surprising number of scriptures. 

Perhaps the most famous 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, 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.  

You may be exhausted or disillusioned.  You may have suffered a crippling fall. 

But the race isn’t over.  Get back up.

To paraphrase St. Paul: 

Run hard.  Finish strong.  See you at the celebration.