There are few days that are better than Sports Day. Christmas day, birthdays, and holidays come close, but most of these days still involve sports. And if they don’t, they should – except maybe Christmas day, I don’t want to get myself in too much trouble here.
Last Thursday was Sports Day for the kids at Tekera Primary School. It was a day of epic proportion. Not even Jacob Miles and Dave Arnold could stir up the excitement these kids carried into every event. It was also a day where parents and the community came out to watch the kids compete at track and field in hopes of winning a goat – yes, a goat.
Needless to say, sports days here are much different than sports days in Canada.
The kids at the school were divided into 4 teams (red, yellow, blue, and green) that were led by the teachers of the school, which meant that there was a need for impartial judges to measure, record, and declare the winners for the day. That is where we fit in.
Krista and I and two of our closest friends, Allie and Dave Henderson, who are currently living in Tanzania and were visiting us in Uganda for the week, were responsible for judging the athletic competition. To say nothing of the perception of having 4 mzungus given special status and presiding over sports day, it was necessary because we didn’t have a stake in which team won the goat. And, I am told, the day actually ran quite smoothly and fairly compared to years past because we remained impartial. Well, we were partially impartial – being judges didn’t stop us from picking our favorites.
The kids competed in bare feet in all the events from sprints to long distances and from long jump to relays, and despite a close call in the discus event (yes, they had discus AND javelin AND shot put events) the day ran smoothly without incident.
That was, at least, until I decided to get involved.
Each year the teachers race some of the parents and community members, and each year one of the parents, Paulo, wins. I was snapping pictures as many of the adults were congregating at the starting line, but made sure to keep my distance because, at that point, I wasn’t interested in sprinting around the soccer field in the heat of the day. So I left the starting line to find a good vantage point from which to take pictures of the race only to have the school’s Head Mistress, Teacher Alice, run over looking for one of the judges to race. Not surprisingly it didn’t take much pressure from Teacher Alice to convince me to race, and before I realized what I had gotten myself into I had thrown off my sandals, watch, and hat, and was standing at the starting line ready to race.
No question about it, once I was committed to the race I was in it to win it, but I really had no idea what to expect. Ugandans are fit and fast and I was running in bare feet over rough ground – something I have done, oh, maybe twice in my life. But working in my favour was the fact that I was a couple years younger than most of the other teachers and adults racing.
The race started and we ran away from hundreds of hyped screaming kids towards the first sharp corner, which I was happy not to bail on, and onto the opposite straightaway through long grass and large mounds of dirt, which I was also happy not to bail on. On the straightaway I decided to push it and moved from about fourth place to first place, which I am told, got quite a reaction from the spectators near the starting line – who would have thought a mzungu could run in bare feet?
Well, it turns out that they can’t (at least the mzungus not named Dave Henderson). I came around the final corner with the lead but the annual winner of the race, Paulo (my long lost African brother), was close behind. As we began to get enveloped by screaming kids towards the finish, I felt my foot give out a little and quickly realized that I had sliced my toe open on the twigs or dirt we were running over. I was able to limp across the finish line, but not before Paulo passed me to the screaming adulation of everyone there. I crossed the finish and was surrounded by over a hundred kids, but none of them seemed to care that I finished second or that I had just sacrificed my body for the race. Such is life in second place.
As casually as I could, I walked over to Allie, who is a doctor, to show her my bloody toe so that she could have a look at it. We headed toward the clinic where Allie spent the next 25 minutes trying to clean out all the dirt I had lodged into the cut. The cut was big but not too deep so I didn’t need stitches, which is a good thing because it was too difficult to clean for stitches anyways. By the time my lovely wife arrived at the clinic to check up on me, I was sweating buckets and almost passed out because I was hot, dehydrated, and my toe was frozen from the local anesthetic that Allie had to use to clean it out, and I think if Krista spent anymore time looking at my cut she would have been on the verge of passing out as well. We were both in a sorry state, that’s for sure.
In light of almost passing out, would I do it again? Of course. All for the glory of Sports Day.