You make the decision to keep trying no matter how hard it gets along the way.
That’s the secret to greatness. Even if you feel like a nobody.
You never stop trying. No matter how painful it feels or unpopular you become, you just put one foot in front of the other until you get to where you want to be.
Along the way you’ll be laughed at. Your intentions will be second-guessed. You’ll be told you’re fighting for something that doesn’t really matter.
You’ll even start to doubt that you’re the right person.
What started out as a glorious endeavor now feels like a miserable exercise of pain and suffering. There’s no grandor where you’re standing. No appreciation or sympathy from those around you.
All you see are obstacles. All you feel is pain. All you think about is giving up.
That’s where John found himself one late evening in the summer of 1968. It was the Olympics in sunny Mexico City. Except by now the sun was almost setting and the Olympics were over. The closing ceremony had finished.
All the medals had been handed out. The music had finished playing. It was time to go.
As the competitors gathered their belongings and attendees started to make their way out of the stadium, the Olympic announcer made a strange announcement over the loudspeaker: “Please remain in your seats”.
Confused, the crowd looked around, wondering what new event was planned.
Was there a last-minute celebrity appearance? A surprise concert? What was going on?
Through the evening light, the attendees could see the spinning blue lights from police motorcycles still somewhat far off from the stadium. The lights moved slowly down the road — as if they were waiting for someone.
And they were. The announcer explained to the crowd that a final marathon runner was entering the stadium.
Even more confused, the crowd buzzed with questions that no one could answer. Wasn’t that event over a few hours ago? Hadn’t the medals been handed out already? They had seen Mamo Wolde from Ethiopia win the gold medal, becoming only the second person in Olympic history to medal in successive Olympic marathons.
They had cheered for Mamo and marveled at his courage. And now they buzzed with anticipation.
As the motorcycles got closer to the stadium you could hear the whine of police sirens. The blue lights cast an odd glow on a runner who was making his way into the arena and towards the finish line.
John limped his way into the outer reaches of the stadium lights. He was covered with blood. His right leg bandaged. Every step painful. His breath ragged. The crowd quickly quieted in stunned silence. How could this man keep running let alone stand on his feet at all?
Unused to running in such high altitude, John had begun to suffer cramps early in the race. But he continued to run with the leaders. And then 11 miles into the race, disaster struck. As he was jockeying with the other runners for position, he was tripped and landed violently.
His head smashed into the pavement, gushing blood. His knee was dislocated from the socket, tendons torn. His shoulder was fractured. As a final disgrace, he had been trampled by the runners behind him who were unable to stop.
That man was the man who ran bravely into the stadium in front of them. The hushed silence of the crowd turned into a thunderous boom as they watched John fight his way slowly towards the finish line.
Ever step was a feat of super-human courage.
The applause was deafening as John took his final step past where Mamo Wolde had set a new Olympic record hours earlier. Medics raced to pick him up from where lay collapsed on the track. He was taken by that same police escort to the Emergency Room at the hospital.
The next day sports journalists from all over the world rushed to John’s side, all asked the same question: “Why, after sustaining the kinds of injuries you did, would you ever get up and proceed to the finish line, when there was no way you could possibly place in the race?”
To John it was simple: “My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start the race; they sent me 5,000 miles to finish the race.”
He was the last of the 57 finishers of the 1968 Olympic Marathon. In all, 75 runners started a race that day. For whatever reason, 18 of those runners dropped out of the race altogether. Only 3 runners got awards. But one man created a story that will never be forgotten.
That man was John Stephen Akhwari.
He started out the race as a nobody.
The truth is that John was from a dirty farm in Tanzania. Back home he had a wife and 6 children to support.
They spent their days working in the fields to grow enough crops to survive. It was a hard life.
All that changed by the time he crossed the finish line.
Not the dusty fields in Africa. Not the family depending on him. Not the hard life working to survive. All that would still be the same when he went home after the Olympics.
But for the rest of time, John Stephen Akhwari will be remembered as a nobody who achieved greatness. A man who refused to quit long after it was the sensible thing to do.
That’s the same challenge you face today.
Whether you keep moving towards where you want to be or if you decide to make excuses and drop out of the race.
Today might be your day to achieve greatness. Are you ready to try?
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