Running for His Life

Ten years ago, before he came to Texas and established himself as a world-class marathoner, Gilbert Tuhabonye cheated death at the hands of tribal warriors by running for his life. Now he wants you to run for yours.

HE WAS ON FIRE. IT was three in the morning, and most of his classmates from the Kibimba school in Burundi were dead—beaten and burned alive by friends of theirs, kids and grown-ups they had known most of their lives. Smoldering bodies lay in mounds all over the small room. He had used some of the corpses for cover, to keep from being hit by the fiery branches tossed in by the Hutu mob outside. For hours he had heard them laughing, singing, clapping, taunting. Waving their machetes, they had herded more than a hundred Tutsi teenagers and teachers from his high school into the room before sunset. A couple dozen were still alive, moaning in pain, dreaming of death.

“There weren’t that many of us left,” he says. “A guy said, ‘I’m going out—I don’t want to die like a dog.’ He jumped from a window. They cut him to pieces. Then they started a fire on the roof. After a while it started falling on me, and I held up my right arm as it came down, trying to pull bodies over me. My back and arm were on fire—it hurt so bad. I decided I had had enough. I decided to kill myself by diving from a pile of bodies onto my head. I tried twice, but it didn’t work. Then I heard a voice. It said, ‘You don’t want to die. Don’t do that.’ Outside, we could hear Hutus giving up and leaving. I heard one say, ‘Before we go, let’s make sure everyone is dead.’ So three came inside. One put a spear through a guy’s heart; another guy tried to escape, and they caught him and killed him. I heard the voice say, ‘Get out.’ There was a body next to me, burned down to the bones. It was hot. I grabbed a bone—it was hot in my hands—and used it to break the bar on the window. The fires had been going for nine hours, so it was easy to break. My thinking was, I wanted to kill myself. I wanted to be identifiable. I wanted my parents to

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