Twenty years have passed since drum-thumping, “run with joy”-shouting Austin coach Gilbert Tuhabonye was nearly burned to death in a massacre in his homeland of Burundi.
On Sunday, he’ll commemorate that day — which he calls his second birthday — by running 20 miles from Texas Running Company in downtown Austin, along the trail around Lady Bird Lake to Mount Bonnell and back.
“It’s kind of a celebration of life,” Tuhabonye says. “If you look at where I came from, one of the things that helped me get back on my feet was running. When I run, it’s just being thankful to God and the people who help me and support me along the way. It also helps me remember the people who lost their lives, the innocent children who died that evening.”
Anyone can join Tuhabonye, 38, who promises he won’t run too quickly. The run starts at 7 a.m.
Civil war racked Burundi from 1993 to 2005. On Oct. 21, 1993, a Hutu mob attacked the school Tuhabonye attended. He and other Tutsi children and teachers were roped together and marched a mile and a half to an abandoned gas station, forced into a room, tortured and burned. He lay for hours under a pile of bodies, finally breaking a window and dashing into the night. (A book about his experience, “This Voice In My Heart: A Genocide Survivor’s Story of Escape, Faith and Forgiveness,” was published in 2006.)
One hundred students and teachers died there that day; Tuhabonye was the only one to survive. His legs, back and arms still bear the scars, but he says he’s been able to forgive the people who tried to kill him.
“I tasted death. People died and I was watching and hopeless. There was no way to escape, but I was able to get out,” he says.
In all, some half-million residents died in the civil war in Burundi, a country roughly the size of Maine sandwiched between Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Tuhabonye went on to become an All-America runner at Abilene Christian University, then moved to Austin and started the hugely popular Gilbert’s Gazelles running group. He also coaches track and cross country at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School. He and his wife have two daughters.
About 8.5 million people live in Burundi now, but poverty and inflation are rampant. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, nearly 1 in 5 children there dies before age 5. Nearly 20 percent of those deaths are due to diarrheal disease, and nearly three-quarters of all reported illnesses are due to a lack of safe drinking water and sanitation.
The seventh annual Run for the Water, which raises money to build water projects in Burundi, is scheduled for 7 a.m. Oct. 27. Runners can choose from a 10-miler or 5K. A Kids’ K will also be offered.
Since 2009, the Gazelle Foundation co-founded by Tuhabonye has spent almost $515,000 to build a network of pipes, spigots and collecting tanks to bring water to more than 23,000 people in Burundi, a combined population of Hutus and Tutsis. The projects tap natural springs on hilltops and use gravity to move water to storage chambers closer to where villagers live. Another $200,000 in donations is already earmarked to expand that system.
Even if you won’t be in Austin that day, you can participate. The foundation is teaming with Map My Fitness to offer a virtual version of the race. You’ll still get a bib and T-shirt and can log your race via the Map My Fitness app. That’s what I’m planning to do.
For more information or to register, go to www.gazellefoundation.com/runforthewater.
Changes are afoot at a couple of popular Austin races.
Organizers of the Austin Marathon and Half Marathon Presented by Freescale announced the return of elite athletes to the field and $40,000 in prize money, bonuses and support to its 2014 races on Feb. 16.
Men and women will compete for prize money three places deep in both the marathon and the half marathon, including a $3,000 first-place prize for the marathon winners. Anyone who breaks the course records of 2:14:02 for the men and 2:36:26 for the women will get a $5,000 bonus, too. (The money rolls over to 2015 if no one does it.)
Organizers also announced a new race within a race. Any two registered runners — friends, family, significant others — can team up to try to win the Couples Race. For more information, go to www.youraustinmarathon.com.
Run for the hills
If you’ve ever run the Decker Challenge, you know about the Hill, a spirit sucking, 4.9-percent grade at mile 10 on a course with more rolls than a cinnamon bun factory. Pace slows and quads whimper as the weaker among us (um, me) slog up the half-mile, 100-foot rise.
For the first time this year, special awards will go to the fastest male and fastest female in the open and masters divisions to scale that hill. Everyone who registers for the Austin Runners Club Decker Challenge Half Marathon will be automatically entered into the King of the Mountain Challenge.
It’s the 35th edition of the race, presented by Rogue Running. The course was originally designed to match a University of Texas cross country training run.
Start time is 8 a.m. Dec. 8 at the Travis County Expo Center. Registration is open at www.edsregistration.com/events/39.
Want to share your ideas about how Austin should develop the shoreline park along the Butler Trail between the now-under-construction boardwalk and Longhorn Dam, east of Interstate 35?
The Trail Foundation and City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department will host a workshop from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Montopolis Recreation Center, 1200 Montopolis Drive.
The 1.5-mile stretch of trail that meanders through that area is evolving, and when the boardwalk opens in 2014, it’s sure to draw a lot more runners, walkers and bicyclists. Input gathered at the meeting will be used to help prioritize public improvements funded through the Trail Foundation, the Parks and Recreation Department or other groups.