Wounded Warrior

23 06 2011

The year was 1968, Viet Nam was in full swing, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King were both assassinated, and riots were taking place in many major cities here in the US. The USSR had invaded and taken over Czechoslovakia and the summer Olympics were getting under way in Mexico City.  Even this great event was not without turmoil as just weeks before the games were to get under way, Mexican military surrounded student protesters and opened fire, killing nearly 300.  

The Olympics though were a welcome distraction, if only temporarily, to world problems as the spotlight now shined on world athletics who had come together to compete for medals of  bronze, silver, and the coveted gold.  The United States team has more that their shares of superstars as they would go on to win the most metals of the games. We would come to know new names for outstanding performances on this prolific sports stage like Bob Beamon for his world record long jump and Dick Fosbury with his unique approach to winning the high jump, which the world came to know as the “Fosbury Flop.”  Then there was, of course, one of the most controversial moments of any Olympics of which generations hence have seen pictures.  Tommie Smith and John Carlos while standing on the victory platform after winning medals in the 200-meter race raised clenched fists (a sign that was prominent during that era) in a black power salute during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner.

Yes, folks, many new stars and celebrities were introduced to the world via the Olympics, which brings us to my hero of the games, and the effect he had on me and probably many others who saw his performance that hot afternoon in Mexico City.  I had been watching the running of the marathon, one of my favorite events.  I find it thrilling to watch the fortitude of these athletics as they give all they have in the most enduring race of them all. Mile after mile they relentlessly run fighting off the pain and fatigue that comes from competing in this grueling event.  I love watching them enter the arena for one lap as the indicator of the last leg of the race.  Screaming and adoring fans have waited here to watch and to wave their country’s flag for their conqueror of this mighty contest as they finally reach the finish line; thrilling indeed!  After many contestants had finished the race, the network carrying the television coverage cut away to another event and I turned the TV off and left to go and do something else.  

When I returned some hours later, I switched the set back on to see what might be taking place.  I can’t tell you anymore what event was being aired at that instant; only that a commentator was talking about it when he was interrupted by a voice belonging to someone I couldn’t see telling him they were going to switch back to the arena for a very dramatic episode being played out.  There, a young, tall, slender black man was coming down the street toward the arena. It was evident there were abrasions and bruises on his arms, legs and face. You could also see a mixture of blood and dirt that stained his running clothes. He had come toMexico Cityas a competitor from a small African nation that was ruled, at that time, by a monarchy.  The TV commentator told a story of how this man was the only one to make the trip from his country. At the opening day ceremonies, most countries marched with a complete team. But this young soul and proud figure of a man marched into the arena alone carrying his country’s flag; he had come to represent his country and people and do that he would, in a way he never imagined. The day of the race had come and early in the competition our young warrior took a hard fall on the hot asphalt that baked under the Mexican sun.  This left some deep gashes in several places over his body.  Picking himself up, he continued on only to fall again and roll down a small embankment.  Many runners on this day did not finish the race out of pure exhaustion brought on my the  grueling heat of the Mexican Sun; but our gallant soul continued on. Bruised and battered, physically spent and dehydrated, he would finish the race for himself, his people, and his king! 

Now, here he was close to the end of his challenge, battered and scared from the conflict, the only runner left from a race that had ended hours before.  Yet he pushed on sometimes walking and sometimes gently running until he finally entered the arena.  Other competitions were going on now, but the track quickly was cleared to allow for his entry. There was a notable soft murmur from the crowd, not understanding exactly what was happening—until they saw him; my newest hero enter to make his final lap.  At first, the applause was no more than cordial.  But as people saw the clear determination of this wounded warrior to finish, the accolades rose too a fever pitch with most fans now standing to their feet to encourage him on. At that moment there was no division of team or countries, everyone was a true champion, and they honored him! As the cheering increased, so did his pace until he was into a steady and strong stride in this last leg.  And as he crossed a quickly put together finish line, the whole place exploded as though cheering a gold medalist or one who had set a new world record!  Even though the runner had finished dead last, the resounding ovation was for one who had, amidst the worst of obstacles, refused to give up the race. 

I Corinthians 9:24-26 (The Message Bible):  “You’ve all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race.  Everyone runs; one wins.  Run to win.  All good athletes train hard.  They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades.  You’re after one that’s gold eternally.  I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line.  I’m giving it everything I’ve got.”

This hero, this champion, this conqueror had come toMexico Cityto give his best effort to win the prize.  When the gold medal was obviously forever out of reach, this did not deter him from the gallant campaign of finishing the race with pride and dignity for he came and gave his all for his king.  Each of us runs a race in life every day.  The determining factor on how you compete, train and accomplish the task before you is shaped by the goal you reach for.  For the Christian, there is no guarantee that life will be painless with smooth roads and easy travel in obtaining that goal.  The secret lies in keeping your focus on why and who you are running for. The ultimate reward at the finish line will be when we hear our King say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” 

May your goals be attainable, your training be diligent and your focus be on the eternal prize.


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