Today Pardon Ndhlovu represented Zimbabwe at the 2016 Rio Games.
A culmination of years of work, Pardon stood toe to toe with the best marathon runners in the world. As one of the best marathoners in the world.
Today, Pardon’s dream came true. He is now an Olympian, and I had the distinct honor of being there.
The feeling of excitement in the crowd was palpable as the marathoners ran out to the starting line. We saw Pardon for the first time and screamed. There were 155 athletes preparing to begin competition. There were so many countries represented and so many athletes in colorful singlets representative of their country that it was truly a sight to behold.
At exactly 9:30 a.m. the gun went off, and the marathon had begun. We thought that it would be a boring two hours. There would be a beginning and an end, and the in-between would be spent waiting. We were wrong.
Every five kilometers we were tracking Pardon’s progress, excitement building as he continued to rise in the rankings.
At the halfway mark, 20km, the crowd began to thicken. By the time the first runner crossed the finish line, the stands were packed. Everyone was cheering. Every runner was met with applause. It didn’t matter the country. The crowd was celebrating the feat accomplished by the Olympians.
Then, the 41 place runner crossed the finish line. With a time of 2:17:48, Pardon placed 41 out of 155 participants. He is now the 41 best marathoner in the world. We screamed and yelled. I cried. A dream was realized. It was an incredible experience.
Pardon was embraced by Meb Keflezighi, a marathoner representing the United States and one of Pardon’s idols. A marathoner he told us he was looking forward to meeting. Then, in true Pardon fashion, he walked back towards the finish line, congratulating other runners and checking on a friend who appeared to be cramping as he crossed the finish line. An act that so exemplified who Pardon is and why he runs.
Pardon is now officially an Olympian. He has accomplished his goal, and in the process has been an example for everyone hoping for a better life and a motivator for people going after their own dreams. But something tells me that this is just the beginning.
Be sure to check out Arthur Takahashi’s blog for his take on our Rio experience.