Running coach celebrates survival of massacre in Burundi with walk up Congress

Austin’s drum-thumping, “run with joy!” shouting coach marched up Congress Avenue this morning, marking the anniversary of the day he almost died in a massacre in Burundi.

Tuhabonye began his walk by filling water jugs from Lady Bird Lake. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Gilbert Tuhabonye, head of the Gilbert’s Gazelles running group, celebrates Oct. 21 as a birthday, because it’s the day he survived an event that gave him a second chance at life. It’s also a reminder of how hard and how far it is for most people in his homeland to get water on a daily basis.

He marked the anniversary by filling a 5-gallon jug with water from Lady Bird Lake and carrying the 40-pound load on his head about a mile to the Capitol. About 20 friends walked with him, many of them also carrying water.

Tuhabonye also used the march as a way to encourage people to sign up for the upcoming Run for the Water, which raises money to install water systems that provide clean drinking water for people in Burundi.

Some of Tuhabonye’s friends joined him on the walk, a reminder that many people in Burundi have to walk miles to get water each day. LIZ KREUTZ/Special to the American-Statesman

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.

RELATED: Austin running coach returns to site of massacre where he almost died in Burundi

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.

Tuhabonye went on to become an All-America runner at Abilene Christian University, then moved to Austin and started the Gilbert’s Gazelles running group.

The Run for the Water is set for Nov. 5. The event, which includes a 10-mile, a 5K and a Kids K run.

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.

Gilbert Tuhabonye marched up Congress Avenue this morning with a 40-pound, 5-gallon jug on water on his head. LIZ KREUTZ/Special to the American-Statesman

Since 2009, the Gazelle Foundation has built a network of pipes, spigots and collecting tanks to bring water to more than 70,000 people in Burundi. The projects tap natural springs on hilltops and use gravity to move water to storage chambers closer to where villagers live.

Registration fee for the 10-mile race is $70; it’s $40 for the 5K. A cash bonus of $250 will be paid to the open and masters division winners who set new course records for the 10-mile course.

To register go here.

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