It was almost 7 p.m. in Mexico City, 1968. One and a half hours earlier the winners of the 26 mile Olympic marathon had crossed the finish line. It had been a grueling hot day as the 7,000 foot altitude took its toll on all the athletes.
The sky was beginning to darken and most of the stadium was empty. As the last few spectators were preparing to leave, police sirens and flashing lights caught their attention. A lone runner wearing the colors of Tanzania had just emerged through the stadium gate. Limping, with his leg bandaged, he found the last of his endurance to step up his pace and finish the race. His name was John Stephen Akhwari.
Film director Bud Greenspan asked him, “Why did you keep going?” The runner replied, “You don’t understand. My country did not send me 5,000 miles to start a race; they sent me to finish it.”
Thomas S. Monson tells of an instance when he paused before the elegant show window of a prestigious furniture store. “That which caught my attention was not the beautifully designed sofa or the comfortable-appearing chair that stood by its side. Neither was it the beautiful chandelier positioned overhead. Rather, my eyes rested upon a small sign that had been placed at the bottom right-hand corner of the window. Its message was brief: ‘Finishers Wanted.’
“The store had need of those persons who possessed the talent and the skill to make ready for final sale the expensive furniture that the firm manufactured and sold. ‘Finishers Wanted.’ The words remained with me as I returned to the pressing activities of the day.
“In life as in business, there has always been a need for those persons who could be called finishers. Their ranks are few, their opportunities many, their contributions great. From the very beginning to the present time, a fundamental question remains to be answered by each who runs the race of life. Shall I falter or shall I finish?” On the answer await the blessings of joy and happiness or the disappointment of coming up short.
Vision, effort and courage are but a few of the traits possessed by a true finisher. First, Vision: We are constantly making small decisions. The outcome determines the success or failure of our lives. True finishers have capacity to visualize their objective, to look ahead, set a course, and at least be partly ready when the moment of decision comes.
Effort: Vision without effort is daydreaming, effort without vision is drudgery; but vision coupled with effort, will obtain the prize.
Courage: Courage becomes a living and attractive virtue when it is regarded not as a willingness to die manfully, but the determination to live decently. Joe Darion summed it up in the words of “The Impossible Dream:”
“To dream the impossible dream, To fight the unbeatable foe; To bear with unbearable sorrow; To run where the brave dare not go. To right the unrightable wrong, To love, pure and chaste, from afar; To try when your arms are too weary To reach the impossible star.”
Jesus said, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34). Have you ever wondered what would have happened if Jesus had given up and quit when the going got tough? But He is a great finisher, even of distasteful tasks. He told us that even though he shrank from drinking the bitter cup of the price of our sins, He nonetheless “partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.”
John Stephen Akhwari, on that day long ago, chose to push aside the pain and anguish of that grueling Olympic marathon in order to finish the race with dignity. So it is with us. I hope I can push aside the heartaches and sorrows of this marathon called life, look for the good in the world, and finish the race with dignity.