By Sam Bwaya, a member of the Rotary Club of Kampala, Uganda
If you had told me a couple of months ago that I would be taking part in an international marathon, I would have had a hearty laugh and said, “not in my lifetime.” At 49, my running experience had been limited to a few laps around a sports field in college three decades earlier.
But there I was on 13 October, boarding Air Uganda with 11 other Rotarians to take part in a charity marathon and walk sponsored by Tanzanian Rotary clubs in Dar es Salaam. The event included a 21-kilometer (about 13 mile) run and a nine-kilometer (5.6 mile) walk, and raises money for pediatric cancer. More than one of our team members were formidable runners. As for me, I had completed my first 5K in Kampala in August, amazed at a stamina I never knew I possessed. I made up my mind to double the distance and go international.
Grand old man
When I had written about my ambitions to a Tanzania Rotarian colleague and journalist, he invited me to compete against Mzee Ali Hassan Mwinyi, the 87-year-old former president of the Republic of Tanzania, for title of fastest walker. He called Mwinyi the “grand old man.” At first I felt slighted. Fresh off my first 5K, and I was being asked to fast walk against someone almost twice my age? But then I told my friend, I would not only compete, I would leave the old man in the dust!
The day before the race, our team and our Tanzanian hosts got together. Ugandan Rotarians have been building a beautiful friendship with our Tanzanian counterparts in preparation for the redistricting that will join us in the new Rotary District 9211. At a district meeting, we had a feast, the true sign of hospitality in Africa. There was so much food, ten times our number could not have finished it all.
Race day, I was ready and pumped. I had practiced (walking around my compound for an entire six minutes!) and had my canvas shoes and a pair of shorts, an upgrade from my last run when I competed in jeans and office shoes. At the starting line, we were all waiting for the “grand old man” to arrive so we could begin. And then he did.
I have to say, the “grand old man” was not at all what I expected. He did not look 87 at all. He looked maybe 70. And when he kicked off the walk, he strode like a 20-year-old. I was quickly three meters behind, but determined not to fall more than five meters back, or resort to a trot.
Before the first kilometer, my legs were aching. I was struggling to breathe. All around me, I heard the thud of feet like a military parade. My training, I realized, had been woefully inadequate. And then he began to trot.
We had been told that Dar was hot and that we should drink a lot. I had drunk quite a bit, but the water had decided to rebel. Then it was no longer just the water. Now my shoes had shrunk, or my feet were getting bigger. My toes had burst through and were peeking out. I momentarily considered shedding the shoes and running barefoot, like other runners have, but reasoned it would cost me too much time. Then the old man began to break into a near run.
Walking on nails
The nails in the sole of my shoes came loose and were digging into my legs. I was literally walking on nails. My underclothes were defying the laws of gravity and sliding upwards, causing collateral damage. I kept pulling them down but they kept sliding up.
By the time I spotted the finish line, I was moving like a zombie. I had the old man in sight, and reasoned I could take him in a sprint. But then I thought, this “grand old man” has run a good race. I must give credit where credit is due. So I restrained myself, and finished where I started, three meters back. Our time was just over an hour and a half. We were both winners.
With a little determination, we can accomplish much. You do not need lots of cash or time to make a difference. Give from what you have, see how even a little can make a big difference.
The Rotarians in Tanzania did a great job organizing this race, attracting 5,000 walkers/runners and raising more than US$1.2 million for an oncology ward. Next year, there will be another race. And I will be there. And this time, I will train.