Success does not come easy. It instead has serious costs. Therein lies the difference between winners and losers. Whereas winners stay willing to pay the price that success demands, losers will easily lose hope over the process and quit. The story of Meseret Defar, the great athlete of her time, shows the realtime price of being and staying a winner.
Success does not come easy. Hard work alone is not enough. Perseverance and commitment are basic. Putting in incessant effort is essential.
Good luck makes a difference. That seems to be what happened to Meseret Defar, one of the great athletes of her time. She started from rags and travelled through the hurdles – the ups and downs of a long journey – before she made a name and fame for herself and for her country in the world of athletics.
The first time I saw her at a distance was a dozen years ago near the Yared Music School. The then national team coach Woldemaskal Kostrire (PhD) and his colleagues were selecting potential contenders from among many young trainees. The rather diminutive, skinny Meseret and her compatriot had already undergone the minimum speed requirement test and were walking towards the bus stop in front of the Saint Markos Church, near Addis Ababa University’s (AAU) Main Campus.
Both of them had worn the tricolor pullover and had carried their little backpacks hanging on their shoulders. Their faces were blank and expressionless.
I imagined that they did not make it this time. But I did not know for sure. I only knew that both girls were tongue tied. But it was made clear in due course that both of them could express their desires and ambitions through the strength of their running legs. Of course, one of them – Meseret Defar – is also an accomplished narrator and story teller.
In a recent interview she had with Sheger Sport on FM 102.1, Meseret Defar revealed much of her life history which is filled with almost incredible ups and downs before she could climb up the ramps of the ladder of success. Her narrations were so exciting and invigorating that I thought I should make an attempt to write about it, intending to use it as a torchlight for other youngsters to see their future destiny.
Meseret was one of the six children of a low income family residing in the Asko area. Poverty was, therefore, her primary enemy.
Among the odd ways that came to her mind to fight poverty she found athletics to be her first option. So, she began rising from bed at dawn and started to practice running.
She had to use some of her time to assist her mother in carrying the share of the daily burden of housekeeping routines. Her running practice was done in secret. Her mother was not aware of the conspiracy because Meseret knew that her mother would not allow her to sneak out without her will.
Running for hours on an empty stomach or wearing patched canvas shoes became a common encounter for her. Even after hours of running practices, she would return home only to pick up her books before going to class. She had no alternative dress or other pair of shoes to change after the sweaty practice.
She recalls in her most amazing narration that there was a time when she had to walk all the way from Asko to Piazza because she was unable to afford the one trip bus ticket of 25 cents as she was short by five cents. Sometimes she would go without food.
One day she felt starved so much so that she had no choice but to eat spicy stew in which red pepper was added. After running for some distance she had to quit because of indigestion problems.
Meseret never lost hope despite these discouraging circumstances. Every time she faced obstacles, she was determined to overcome it by gathering more strength to try again and again until she was able to persevere, stage by stage. She even said that the ambition to prove one’s worth starts in the mind with having confidence.
The challenges were not limited only to food or clothing. She also had to confront the misgivings of some officials in the selecting hierarchy. Time and again she was being disappointed for one reason or another.
What is most interesting in the agonizing interview was that Meseret, despite her name, was too cautious not to infer to anybody or implicate anyone for all the ordeals she had been through. But her insinuations are not missed. It is hoped that they are well taken up by the concerned officials for the wellbeing of succeeding young runners.
Meseret had also been lucky at times. Once, she would have been excluded from a vital international race if it were not for the unexpected absence of Berhane Adere whom she had to replace. That incident opened the venue for Meseret who found herself at a point of no return. Success took its toll thereafter. The name Meseret became a household name.
Besides winning track races Meseret is known also for her altruistic actions in helping underprivileged communities and philanthropic associations. She expresses herself so eloquently that one would certainly benefit a lot from making a film or publishing a book about her life and use it as a reading material for children in schools. Her experiences and success stories are so inspiring and invigorating not only in the field of athletics but also in many other spheres of life.
It is a pity that sports fans, particularly in the athletics field, tend to give a standing ovation to the winner staring from the last round when the bell rings. They do not seem to be aware of what it takes to be one of the contenders let alone being a winner from the first to the third rank winning gold, silver and bronze medals.
Incidentally, Kenenisa Bekele won the Paris Marathon last week. Ethiopia is once more expecting to remain dominant in the distance races in the coming international competitions, of course, God willing.
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