The greatest last place ever

Mexico City is a world away from the East African country of Tanzania, where John Stephen Akhwari lived. But that’s exactly where he found himself in October 1968, representing his country in the Summer Olympic Games as a marathon runner. Unfortunately, Akhwari suffered a fall during the race. And it wasn’t a gentle tumble on a grassy knoll. He fell hard on rough concrete, badly cutting his right leg and dislocating his knee. Medical personnel arrived quickly and bandaged his wounds. But the dislocated knee required more treatment than they could provide in the city streets. He needed to go to the hospital. But against their advice, Akhwari instead stood up and started down the road behind the rest of the runners.

Given the severity of his injuries, he couldn’t run his normal pace. With a combination of jogging, hobbling, and walking, he pushed ahead. At 2:20:26 into the race, Mamo Walde of Ethiopia crossed the finish line in first place. Most of the remaining competitors finished within a few minutes. Akhwari was nowhere close.

An hour later, the Olympic stadium had only a few thousand people left in it. The marathon was the last event of the day, and the sun had already set. Mexico City was brutal on the marathon runners. At over 7.400 feet in altitude, the air has 23 percent less oxygen than at sea level. As a result, 17 of the 74 runners failed to finish the race that day. Akhwari, bloodied and injured, was determined to not be one of them. Followed by a police escort, and clearly in great pain, Akhwari finally arrived and limped his way onto the track, his loosening bandages dangling from his leg. As the diminished crowd cheered in awe and disbelief, John Stephen Akhwari made his way around the track and crossed the finish line at 3:25:27, in last place. The few remaining reporters rushed onto the field to ask him why he continued running in his condition. He responded simply, »My country didn’t send me 5.000 miles to start this race. They sent me 5.000 miles to finish it.«

Source: Lead with a Story: A guide to crafting business narratives that captivate, convince, and inspire by: Paul Smith, 2012 

You can read more about John Stephen Akhwari here on Wikipedia.


Lessons from this story:

  • Start what you intend to finish.
  • Have a reason/purpose to start something. So that when you run into tought times  you have a reason to go on.
  • It’s not always about being the first or being number one. What counts is that you finish what you have started. That is how you get better and stronger.
  • Not everything will go as planned, but that doesn’t have to be your reason not to finish what you have started.
  • You may think you know the way and what obstacles you may encounter on your way to achieving your goal. But when you face something you did not plan for, do not stop! Adjust and keep going.
  • Everyone can find a reason to quit. But not everyone can find a reason to finish! Which reason do you have?

Are there any lessons I missed? Please let me know in the comment section.

Source of the featured image: Wallpaper Zone

I hope you found this post helpful. Let me know what you think. Talk to you in the comment section.


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