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Winning the Race

Leadership can be a lonely road. Many times we get discouraged when the results aren’t as timely or notable as we had hoped. But most of us will be remember for how we ran not for winning the race.  True leaders continue to run long after less dedicated runner fade and quit.  And many times  the winner of the race will not necessarily be the one who crosses the finish line first.

John Stephen Akhwari enters the stadium
John Stephen Akhwari

I recall one such winner from the Mexico City Olympic Summer Games of 1968. Out of the cold darkness he came.  John Stephen Akhwari of Tanzania entered at the far end of the stadium, pain hobbling his every step, his leg bloody and bandaged. The winner of the marathon had been declared over an hour earlier. Only a few spectators remained. But the lone runner pressed on.

While competing in the marathon in Mexico City, Akhwari cramped up due to the high altitude of the city. He had not trained at such an altitude back in his country. At the 19 kilometer point during the 42 km race, there was jockeying for position between some runners and he was hit. He fell badly wounding his knee and dislocated that joint plus his shoulder hit hard against the pavement. He however continued running,

He finishing last among the 57 competitors who completed the race (75 had started). The winner of the marathon, Mamo Wolde of Ethiopia, finished in 2:20:26. Akhwari finished in 3:25:27.   When he entered the stadium only a few thousand people remained.   A television crew was sent out from the medal ceremony when word was received that there was one more runner about to finish.

As he crossed the finish line, the small crowd roared out its appreciation. Afterward, a reporter asked the runner why he had not retired from the race, since he had no chance of winning. He seemed confused by the question. Finally, he answered: “My country did not send me to Mexico City to start the race. They sent me to finish.”

Winning the race…………..

In my mind Akhawri is a winner.   Many times winning doesn’t mean crossing the finish line first by having the tenacity to finish in spite of seemingly insurmountable odds.  Winning at the leadership challenge is never easy.  While the end results of our leadership challenges may seem unremarkable there is a certain satisfaction that comes from completing plans. Little did that lonely run ever envision that forty years later his story would be retold.  So it is with our efforts.  We cannot know what long term effects they will have on those around us.  Let me inspire your team at your next staff meeting or conference.

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