If you live in Austin, and you’re a part of some fitness group in the city, you’ve likely heard the name Gilbert Tuhabonye. Gilbert is something of a staple in the Austin running community. He founded the running group Gilbert’s Gazelles, began the non-profit Gazelle Foundation, and organizes the annual Run For The Water race. Not only that, but this year Gilbert was voted one of the Best Runners in Austin by Austin Fit Magazine, which is quite an accomplishment if you consider how many people run in Austin (for those who don’t know, it’s A LOT!).
I first became aware of Gilbert back in 2011 because my company does pro-bono work for the annual Run For The Water race, a 10-mile race that helps raise money to provide clean drinking wells for villages in Burundi, Gilbert’s home. Working so closely with his organization, I’ve heard Gilbert’s tragic history once or twice. The story is long and pretty gruesome, so I won’t give you all the details, but basically, Gilbert was the sole survivor of a massive racial/political/what-have-you attack on his school, barely making it out alive. He spent his teenage years training as a runner to hopefully get him a college scholarship to the United States in the hopes of escaping this country full of so much turmoil. While sad, Gilbert’s story does have a happy ending, as he managed to come to the US and develop fame as an athlete (both on the collegiate and professional level).
After spending several years in the US, Gilbert wrote a book about his experiences called This Voice In My Heart. I was given a signed version of the book as a thank you for my fundraising efforts for last year’s race. Since receiving it in November, I was interested in reading the book, but as a person who has a difficult time getting through biographies, the book sat on my nightstand until recently. But with my New Year’s Resolution, I’m really trying to do things that inspire me and/or make me happy, so the book made it way into my nightly routine. And you know what? This book did just that. Yes, it was tragic. Yes, it makes you feel for those suffering in other countries. But more than anything, it is seriously inspiring. I mean, to read in detail the suffering that Gilbert (and so many others) went through and see how he came out on top AND used his experience to bring about positive change in himself, in others and in his country – it warms your heart. At least it did mine.
Last weekend, I was taking Maverick for a walk around Town Lake, and I saw Gilbert running. At that point I had only read about half the book, but I was already so moved by his experience that I wanted to run up next to him and give him a huge hug. Now that’s assuming I’d be able to keep up to his maniacal pace, which I never could, so I just kept walking at my sloth-like speed, but the feeling was there. Prior to reading This Voice in My Heart, I was already impressed with all the good Gilbert has done for the Austin community and for him hometown, but this book just ups that exponentially.
If you have some spare time, I highly encourage you to read Gilbert’s book. It’s so captivating that even the slowest reader is likely to finish the book quickly (plus it’s only about 250 pages). The positive message you’ll take away outweighs any of the sadness you may feel while reading (though I suggest not reading it before bed. Those dreams aren’t pleasant). And find a way to meet Gilbert if you can – I know after reading this book, I am looking forward to working with his foundation more this coming year.
With that, I leave you with a line from Gilbert’s book that really struck me, and I plan to keep close to my own heart:
“It is easy to light a fire and difficult to extinguish it. Though some would rather have seen me destroyed by flames, no one can extinguish the fire inside of me.”