In 2005 I retired from competitive athletics after failing to qualify for the 2004 summer olympics. Without financial support, I realized that there would be no way for me to make it to 2008, the next opportunity for me to represent Uganda in the summer Olympics. Life was beckoning. I couldn’t sustain 6-hours a day of training, and still have enough time in the day to work enough hours to pay for it all.
The day I hung up my cleats and walked off the oval, I was comforted by knowing that I went as far as I could chasing the Ugandan decathlon national record (I had already broken the high jump and pole vault records along the way). I found this piece online and I couldn’t help but smile. Someone out there forever cemented me in John Akii-bua’s shadow:
The next notable Ugandan performer in the decathlon is Teddy Sondota-Ruge (Teddy Sondota) who had studied at the University of North Texas and established a personal best of 6809 points in Dallas on June 1st 2003. 11.84 in the 100 meters, 6.20 meters in the long jump, 11.53 meters in the shot put, 1.92 meters in the high jump, 52.19 in the 400 meters, 15.09 in the 110 meters-hurdles, 37.94 meters in the discus, 4.37 meters in the pole vault, 58.01 meters in the javelin, 4:57.42 in the 1500 meters. Ruge still holds the Uganda national record in the pole vault: 4:57 meters established in Abilene in Texas on May 15th 1997.
As another year closes, I still wonder how far I could have gone with just a little bit of help. I used to watch reruns of Al Bundy in the 90’s sitcom, Married with Children. Almost every other episode had him reminiscing about that great game in high school — where he was the hero of the day. He would compare the glory days to the reality that was his life — selling women shoes.
I know I will never be in the kind of shape I was in almost a decade ago, but sometimes I wonder what kind of shape I could have been in with what I know now about nutrition, tenacity and perseverance. I used to think that I could train on pizza, fried, chicken and the occasional salad. Looking back it was probably the worst diet any athlete could be on. I laugh at how exactly I managed to break 2 national records on that kind of fuel. But back then, I had no choice. The only jobs I could get to fit my training schedule were freelancing as a graphic designer and delivering pizza, KFC chicken and as a waiter at Maccaroni Grill restaurant.
I am not bitter that I didn’t get to the Olympic, I look back on that life fondly. I set my sites on becoming better than the myth that was Akii-Bua. He was the star I wanted to outshine. I wished that he had been alive to inspire me even further. But I guess I’ll forever be in his shadow. That can’t be the worst thing. I did it for love of country, probably the very same reason he competed — to put his country on the map (for the good reasons). Early 1970’s Uganda was a terrible place to be alive.
Uganda now, is full of promise and there are so many ways I can contribute. I still yearn to make a difference in, and, for my country. This is what drives me now. That competitive spirit never died, it just took on a different identity.
I wonder if there’s a Ugandan out there toiling away in obscurity at mastering the decathlon. If you are reading this, keep at it. The worst thing you can do is quit early and regret for the rest of your life. As someone once told me, today is the youngest you’ll ever be. Youth is a gift we get but once in a life time, use it to its fullest. There will be time for another life later.