I’ll never forget the day I met one of my all-time heroes, Haile Gebrselassie. And when I say one of my all-time heroes, I’m not exaggerating. His story inspires me like nobody else’s.
Haile was born in a town called Asella, in Ethiopia. Now, Asella is up in the mountains, about 8000 feet above sea level. Living in a town that high up comes with a unique problem: there is a shortage of oxygen. When you stand in the centre of Asella and breathe in, a considerably smaller quantity of oxygen will make its way into your lungs than when you take that same single breath in Accra.
This is a problem. We all need oxygen and we need it in abundance. The more active we are, the more of it we need. That’s why you breathe faster after running or fighting or making love. If you don’t know what a lack of oxygen can do to you, ask the people dying in the emergency wards of government hospitals as we speak.
So this is the place where Haile Gebreselassie grew up. But it gets worse. His school was ten kilometres away from his house. That meant he had to travel 20 kilometres a day just to get an education. That’s about the distance from Accra to Tema. Every single day. Sometimes, he was late, and would have to run all the way there. With less oxygen than you and I have access to here in Accra.
Naturally, over the years, his lungs evolved. They learnt how to ration every breath he took and use the little oxygen that came in to effectively run his body and brain through all his daily activities, including running 2 marathons a day, to and from school, when he was only nine years old.
My friends, life is tougher for some than others. I’m sure you look at the year we’re having so far, and you wonder how you’re going to make it through. When the economy continues to limp along, and we are all being forced to chase the dollar into the bush, you start to wonder how you’re supposed to go without so many things and still survive. Let me remind you that the most essential thing a human being needs is oxygen. If a person can get by on rations of that, then there truly is nothing we cannot live without.
Now, the thing that inspires me most about Haile’s story is how his weakness became a strength. After getting by on rations of oxygen his whole life, and still performing at the highest standards, just imagine what he was able to do when he descended to our level where oxygen is abundant. If he could only jog at home, down here, he could fly. Nobody could catch the little man from Asella. There was really no point trying to. Of course, those of us down here have been spoiled. We’ve breathed freely all our lives, and so imagine how we would all suffer if we were to move to Haile Gebrselassie’s hometown of Asella today.
That’s life. Those who start off in abundance tend to struggle in adversity. And the opposite is also true. Back in Augusco, there was an athlete called Agabus. The guy was fast. He broke every imaginable sprint record there was to break. His secret was that every morning, he would go to the beach, tie bags of sand around his ankles and run in the sand.
He would sprint at great bursts of speed with weights around his ankles, on the unruly, uneven surface of the sand. Then, he would walk around all day with the sand bags on his ankles until the time of the race. When he finally took the sandbags off, Agabus’ legs would feel super light. The same effort he had been using to move with the sandbags on, could now take him a great deal further and faster once he took them off.
So what are the sandbags in your life? What are the things that put you at a disadvantage to others? Is it a poor upbringing? Less than excellent grades? Less than excellent looks? A disability? Whatever your disadvantages, try to remember that they are actually advantages when you compete against those who have never had to live with your limitations.
Show them what you have endured. Show them what you have been through and survived. Make those who think they are better than you realise that they are no match for you even on your worst day! Show them that all your life, you have been doing what they do, but you have been doing it without what they have.
Show them that after a lifetime of battling with one arm tied behind your back, they stand no chance against you with both hands free…In fact, it’s not even a fair fight. You will wipe the floor with them. All these tough years we’re having to live through now – that’s God training us with sandbags in the sand, so that when we hit the turf and he takes our sandbags off, nobody can catch us.
My name is Kojo Yankson, and I’ve never had much. So to win, I don’t need much.
SOURCE: Nii Otu Dadeban Ankrah