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Runner's Scars Tell Of A Survivor's Story

Updated: Saturday, August 3 2013, 09:47 PM CDT

Gilbert Tuhabonye is one of the most popular running coaches in Austin, but how he got to Texas is a path of hope.

“It’s a part of my history. It’s a part of who I am,” Tuhabonye said.

The scars that nearly cover his entire body tell a survivor’s story.

“Running helped me overcome obstacles,” Tuhabonye said. “I almost lost my life, I almost died.”

He was born and raised in Burundi, Africa, a small nation plagued by civil war and political tribes battling for power.

On October 21, 1993 Gilbert found himself in the middle of the country’s unrest.

“That day the Hutu president was assassinated by Tutsi extremist,” Tuhabonye said. “In act of retaliation the Hutu came to my school and locked up everybody they could find.”

Tuhabonye and 200 of his classmates were kidnapped, taken to a gas station, locked inside, and the building was set on fire. The flames scorched for eight hours while Tuhabonye hid under a pile of dead bodies. He was the only one to escape.

“I had to use something to break the window so I could run free,” Tuhabonye said. “I used a dead body, someone that I knew, and I broke the window and was able to run.”

He kept running.  Despite third-degree burns all over his body, Tuhabonye earned a track scholarship to Abilene Christian University where he became a national champion. In 2008 Olympics he carried the torch while representing his native country.

“The emotion that I went through carrying the Olympic torch, the fire that burned me few years back, and now I have the fire in my hands,” Tuhabonye said.

Now living in Austin, he does everything he can to give back to his tribe. He started the Gazelle Foundation and the proceeds build water projects in Burundi. The largest annual fundraiser, Run for the Water, has helped 16,000 people get clean drinking water.

“You've seen all my scars. I don't have scars in my heart because I forgive,” Tuhabonye said. “Running for me is my therapy, it’s my freedom.”

That’s because he’s been running his entire life.

By Cassie GalloRunner's Scars Tell Of A Survivor's Story


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