He wasn’t going to make it. Every script was against him succeeding. He didn’t come from the part of the country that had riches of gold and diamond. His father was a shepherd who could hardly provide a meaningful life to his children. Some few years back, he had to walk over 20 kilometers to the city to find a job. A job to help himself and the family.
What meaningful job could the shepherd’s boy find that will pay him enough for himself and the family he’d left behind in the village?
It happened that When Abebe Bikila got to the city of Addis Ababa after walking over 20 kilometers from Jato, he found himself working for the royal family as a private bodyguard.
We all leave behind a life so we could take up a new life. Newness comes when we are ready to part with the old. Living with the burdens of yesterday gets you nowhere. it slows your pace down. It becomes heavier as days pass you by. Everyday comes with a new burden-a burden you keep accumulating because you don’t let go.
We have to move. We have to leave the old. We have to seek a better day everyday.
Abebe trekked over 20km to seek the face of the sunshine. His better day. It wasn’t as beautiful at first. But it was beautiful than what he left behind.
But that wasn’t the end. It was just a phase.
A talent was spotted in Abebe. He had the ability to run. He was groomed. For four years, he trained for the Olympics as a long distance runner. During the preparation for the 1960 Summer Olympics, he wasn’t ready. So his coach believed. There was someone better than Abebe. So he wasn’t selected. But then he got lucky.
Abebe was included in the Olympic team at the last minute when their plane to Rome was about to leave. One of the long distance runner fell sick. Abebe took his place on the plane.
I said he got lucky. Know this. You don’t get lucky whiles sitting in the sofa with arms crossed. Doing nothing. You can be lucky this way. You can be lucky only when you are prepared. Abebe had been training for four years prior. All those years he was positioning himself to be found. To be found by roaming luck.
He had to trek over 20km from Jato to Adis Ababa. He had to become a bodyguard first before he was found. Someone is looking. A plying eye is looking for what you have. You can’t be found if you take pleasure in dwelling in your comfort zone. Stick your neck out first. It is only when the tortoise sticks its neck out, then it can walk. You want walk but your neck is safe and sound in your shells.
Abebe trekked. He trekked to standout on the mountain. It’s easier to be found when you stand taller than all the rest. He stood tall. His number of years training as a long distance runner was his mountain. What is your mountain?
But this is where the real story of victory comes.
Abebe got to Rome and there was no shoes for him to run in. He got on the plane very late. His foot wasn’t considered. He tried a lot of the shoes but non would fit. I can imagine Abebe in distress. I can imagine him asking himself; “how do I run without a pair of fitting running boot?” I can imaging his coach running around asking for a boot that will fit Abebe.
But I can imagine this too. I can imagine Abebe saying to himself: “I didn’t come all the way here only to be stopped by a lack. I’ve lacked greater things than this. But I’ve always prevailed. This too is another lack. A lack I have to prevail on.”
Abebe started running the race barefooted. William Halsey said: “there are no extraordinary men…just extraordinary circumstances that ordinary men are forced to deal with. Adebe was forced to deal with the extraordinary situation of having to run barefooted. Throughout the 5000meters race, he passed many runners who were all running in shoes. Every inch of the ground was covered barefooted.
All throughout the race he was looking ahead for a particular runner. This runner was his rival. He’s the one he had to outrun to win the race. His coach told him: “he wore bib numbered 26. He’s the rival. outrun him. Only that way you could be a winner.” All through the race, Abebe was looking out for the number 26 whiles keeping pace with the front runners.
Always there’s somebody ahead. Our target is to look ahead not backwards. Behind us are people struggling to catch up with us. Behind us are people with hopes and dreams just like us. But we can’t look back to them. We can’t look back and be scared of them catching up with us. Our fears are ahead. Our hopes of winning only lies ahead of us. Behind us is our yesterday. Our yesterdays are waste fields of hopelessness. We could only surge forward. Ahead.
Abebe surged forward. Only forward till he realized he’s on the last lap. I can imagine him asking: “I’m on the last lap and still no number 26?” But he kept surging forward. Outrunning everybody until he got to the finish line. He’d won the race barefooted on a record time.
All through the race he was chasing a mirage. That number 26 runner actually ran that day with a different number. All through the race Abebe was running along side his target who’s now wearing number 185. He didn’t know it. So he kept looking out. He kept chasing until the last lap. Our targets ain’t far away. We just have to run. Keep running and looking only ahead.
After the race, he was asked why he ran barefooted and he said:
“I wanted the whole world to know that my country, Ethiopia has always won with determination and heroism.”
The truth is this. No one has ever won anything of note without determination. I mentioned William Halsey a moment ago. He understood the power of determination better. Determination won him a battle where the enemies outnumbered his soldiers more than two to one. Then after the battle he said:
“All problems, personal, national, or combat, become smaller if you don’t dodge them, but confront them.” Abebe confronted his. He won and became a national hero. Yours might no be a quest for heroism. Yours might be to win personal victory over a habit. Yours might be a personal battle to gain freedom from fears. Every simple win is right. Every simple win requires determination. Abebe’s kind of determination.
“Touch a thistle timidly” Halsey said “and it pricks you; grasp it boldly, and its spines crumble.” All there is to victory is to grasp your thistles of life boldly. Know your thistles; Fear, doubt, hunger, sickness, unworthiness? grasp them boldly then crash their soul. Then you win.
All the victories Abebe chalked in life, none holds my heart bound than this;
Abebe later had an accident and suffered cerebral hemorrhage. Four years later, he died of same disease. But he wouldn’t go until the real victory over life was won. When he was asked about his feelings about the accident and the resulting injury, he said:
“Men of success meet with tragedy. It was the will of God that I won the Olympics, and it was the will of God that I met my accident. I accepted those victories as I accept this tragedy. I have to accept both circumstances as facts of life and live happily”
“…As facts of life.” Heroes rise and heroes fall; fact of life. You’ll win some and lose some, fact of life. Something will have to kill you, eventually, that’s fact of life. Have you accepted your mishap as a fact of life?
To know happiness. True happiness is to surrender without losing hope. Whatever you are going through is a phase. It’s a fact of life. It comes with the package. The package that made you king. The package that brought you ceaseless joy. That package that gives you your ultimate strength to face life is made up of other things too.
Joy comes in the morning. Despair, fear, death, doubt, distress, heartbreak, failure, scarcity; all has their way of creeping in—creeping into our package of life.
Embrace it. We become superior to our fate when we embrace it totally.
This is victory. This is the real happiness