During the 1968 Olympics, held in Mexico City, John Stephen Akwari, a marathoner, represented Tanzania. His hopes were high but along the way he stumbled and fell, injuring his knee and ankle and enabling a runner from Ethiopia to win the gold.
Events for the day were nearly finished and the crowd dwindling when a siren sounding at the finishing gate caught the attention of the remaining contestants and spectators. Limping through the gate came Akwari his leg wrapped with a bloody bandage. Cheers went up for the man who lost the race but insisted on finishing.
Asked by a reporter why he kept going after his injury, Akwari answered, “My country did not send me seven thousand miles to begin a race, they sent me to finish the race.”
In 1972, the Olympics were held in Munich. Frank Shorter, an American, was the favorite to win the marathon but he wasn’t the first to cross the finish line. The man who did finish first was a fraud. He had jumped off the back of a soft drink delivery truck that had driven through the stadium underpass. He then ran in as the winner, pretending to be tired and triumphant. He had his moment of glory but was soon caught by guards and taken away.
All through life, we’ll encounter finishers and frauds but ultimately the fakes are found out and the finishers are admired for their courage and ability to stick to their goals. Finishers may fall but those who refuse to quit are ultimately rewarded.
I once officiated at the funeral of a man who had lived to his mid-nineties. He and his wife had maintained their farm home while keeping to some of their old ways, to the concern of their children. They even did their cooking on an old wood cook stove so to make things more convenient for them their children give them a new electric range. Still the hardy parents continued to use the old stove, requiring wood to be brought in daily and causing the children to worry about their father being injured while doing so.
“We’re afraid you’ll fall,” they said.
“If I fall, I’ll get up again,” he replied.
The old man had a Biblical attitude. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord and He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholds him with His hand” said the Psalmist (Psalm 37:23-24).
When we stumble and fall it’s important that we refuse to see ourselves as failures. God meets us where we are and gives strength to rise up and press on to the gold.
Looking back at failures cannot change them into successes. The important thing to remember is that our Lord offers grace for stumbling times and strength for every day.
In his book, “You Can Climb Higher,” Dr. George Sweeting says Jesus is the ultimate example of staying power, pointing out that He stayed on the cross until his work was finished. “It takes courage to follow His example and it’s not easy, but we can have staying power,” Sweeting writes.
What good news!
When we fall, our Lord provides strength to rise up and finish the race.