On this day 38 years ago, October 20, 1968, Ethiopian running legend Mamo Wolde won the Olympic Marathon in Mexico City, giving Ethiopia an unprecedented third consecutive victory in the Olympic Marathon. This was the pinnacle of Mamo Wolde's career, and perhaps his entire life.
It's A Long Shot, But It's Worth A Try
These were not the words of Mamo Wolde, or even his coach's. Rather, they wre uttered by Joel Button, to himself, after reading the January 2004 edition of "Runner's World" magazine.
What powerful words they were!
At the time, Mr. Button was serving as the Principal of Cono Christian School in Iowa. The "Runner's World" article he had just read was on Mamo Wolde and the ordeal Mamo found himself in after the Derg regime in Ethiopia was overthrown in 1991.
The story, beautifully written by Kenny Moore, who himself took part in the 1968 and 1972 Olympic Marathon, included mention of Mamo Wolde's children along with a heart tugging picture, depicting the somber future they faced without a father. After reading this moving story, Mr. Button decided to act and immediately began an effort to bring Mamo's children to the U.S., where they could have a better propspect in life.
Despite the seemingly long shot of this ever reaching fruition, Mr. Button pursued all possible avenues, including contacting Ethiopian alumni of Cono Christian School and parents of current students. I, as an Ethiopian alumnus of Cono, also received a call from Mr. Button, though I did not provide any assistance, or even encouragement, to Mr. Button, which I now deeply regret.
Ultimately, and after much effort, Mr. Button was successful in bringing Mamo's two children, Addisalem and Tabor, to the U.S. in October 2004. It appears now that Addisalem and Tabor have adjusted well to their new life in the U.S.
Mr. Button has now moved on from Cono Christian School and is pursuing other challenges. However, he has already paved a way for Addisalem and Tabor to be successful in life. In doing so, he has perhaps done more to preserve the legacy of Mamo Wolde than most Ethiopians have.
As we remember the events of this day 38 years ago, it is also fitting to recall one additioanal thing. Mamo Wolde went on to compete in the 1972 Olympic Marathon in Munich, Germany where he finished third and won the bronze medal AT THE AGE OF FORTY!
This in itself was such "a long shot" but Mamo must have believed "it was worth a try" on behalf of Ethiopia, just as Mr. Button believed, decades later, "it was worth a try" on behalf of Mamo.
"Only those who attempt the absurd will achieve the impossible."
M. C. Escher