It's 1968, in Mexico City. The Olympic Games are about to wrap up with the final event on the program, the men’s marathon. Olympic stadium is packed and in a frenzy as the first athlete enters the stadium. It’s an Ethiopian runner, named Mamo Wolde. As he crosses the finish line, the crowd erupts in cheers and applause.
Way back in the field of runners is a man representing his country of Tanzania, John Stephen Akwhari. He had been struggling throughout the race due to the altitude of Mexico City, and at the 12 mile mark, with a throbbing head and cramping muscles, he collapsed to the ground. The result of his fall is a dislocated knee, causing the race officials to plead with him to give up and abandon his race, but Akwhari refuses. With his knee bandaged, Akwhari picks himself up and hobbles the remaining 14 miles to the finish line. An hour after the winner of the race has finished, Akwhari enters the stadium. All but a few thousand spectators have gone home. Akwhari moves around the track at a painstakingly slow pace, until he finally collapses across the finish line.
It is one of the most heroic efforts of the Olympic Games, known today as the “greatest last place finish in Olympic history.” Afterward, when asked by a reporter why he did not drop out of the race, Akwhari says, “My country did not send me 5000 miles to start the race, they sent me 5000 miles to finish the race.”
When I reflect on that story, I can’t help but remember the words of Hebrews12:1, which says, “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, lust us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.”
Finishing strong in life is something we all wish to do. Along that path we all desire to accomplish great things in our families, our churches, our communities, our careers. Our Annual Campaign at the Y is, in a way, a mile-marker in our “race” of life. And just like any mile-marker in any race, we check our progress and see how we are doing. We have an incredible opportunity to make a great difference in our community through the Y, through this year’s Annual Campaign.
My prayer is that together, we can go that extra mile in making sure our generation and the generations to come will know that each one of us cared enough to invest: financially, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And by doing so, we won’t be the generation marked as mere starters, but as finishers; that we completed the race marked out for us. And if we can commit to that, we will make our communities a better place, by investing in the lives of those who call our communities home. This year, in this Annual Campaign, let’s all be champions. Because true champions finish what they start.
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