“First do enough training, then believe in yourself and say I can do it. Tomorrow is my day; and then say, the person in front of me is just a human being as well, he has two legs, I have two legs, that is all. That is mentally how you prepare.”
These couldn’t have been the words of any comedian or a pessimist; they were the exact words of a trail blazer, one that set a sure path for himself and refused to be intimidated by the abject poverty that stared him in the face.
Who would have thought that this unassuming boy, who would run 10 kilometers on the streets of Arsi in Ethiopia, as he went back and forth every school day, hungry, tattered and barefoot, would ever rise to become a name to be reckoned with in Ethiopia, Africa and the entire globe?
Born 18th April, 1973, Haile Gebrselassie is the world’s #1 long distance runner and road runner who has evidently done well for himself. His growth in the industry is what I can confidently describe as rapid, consistent and intense. This great athlete has won two Olympic gold medals over 10,000 metres and four World Championship titles in the event. He won the Berlin Marathon four times consecutively and also had three straight wins at the Dubai Marathon. Further to this, he won four world titles indoors and was the 2001 World Half Marathon Champion.
Haile had major competition wins at distances between 1500 metres and the marathon, moving from outdoor, indoor and cross country running to road running in the latter part of his career. He broke 61 Ethiopian National Records ranging from 800 meters to the marathon, and has set 27 world records.
Haile rose to international prominence in 1992 when he won the 5,000m and 10,000m world junior championships. He set his first world record in the 5,000m at 12:56:96 in Hengelo Holland in 1994 by breaking the 6-year record of Said Aouita. As wise men have taught us, nothing good comes easy, and this determined athlete had a daily routine; he would wake at 5am and train till 4pm.
“In the rainy season sometimes to get to the first lesson, I had to run really quick because I had to cross the river to school; I’d have to go up and down to find a place to cross because there is no bridge”. He recounted.
To some of us, the ‘Ajebo’* group in particular, our school days are remembered with fond nostalgia. The days of pinafores for the girls and neatly ironed shorts for the boys; I don’t know if someone else wore the “Cortina shoes by Bata” or was it only me? There was always someone to wake us up, dress us for school and get us going with a healthy breakfast; and someone else to get us to school. But for Haile, it was a different story. His childhood was chock-full of torment. He would wake from his side of the floor, have a cold bath and then embark on his long run to school (of course, no one talked about breakfast). When he finally arrived panting at the entrance of the school, he would be welcomed with unending strokes of a cane, punishment for lateness.
Growing up, Haile had no shoes and yet was comfortable running on bare feet. (Does this remind you of something? It will if you are a patriotic Nigerian). Despite the huddles and challenges he faced, and in the midst of his many troubles, he could only think of his country, and hope that someday he would be able to help his country. Simply amazing.
At some point in his life Haile considered the possibility of becoming a politician after his retirement and this, not out of any selfish ambition, but because of what he thought he could do for his country.
Haile has currently built many schools and offices in his country, in the fulfillment of his dreams for his dear country.
About retirement, Haile has been known to say, “Why should I say I’ll retire in 3 or 4 years? You retire the very moment you utter those words.” Although at some point in his career he announced his retirement due to a health challenge that made him lose a race, by the next day, he withdrew his statement.
Haile is still thriving and doing exploits around the world, restating the reality I have come to understand; nothing can keep a great man down.