Gilbert Tuhabonye is an amazing runner, and now coaches and trains the best track and field stars.
His love of running was forged early. Gilbert loved to run everywhere. He ran to the valley’s edge to get water for his family. He ran to school, five miles away, and he loved to race his friends. His favorite thing to do was to chase his family’s cows. He was baptized as a Catholic in the sixth grade and moved 150 miles away the next year to board at a Protestant school in Kibimba.
While attending the Kibimba school, Gilbert began running competitively. Running barefoot, he won an 8K race while only a freshman. As a sophomore, he met a man who taught him how to change his running technique by getting his knees up and holding his arms correctly. The coach encouraged him to work hard and try for the Olympics. Gilbert became the national champion in the 400 and 800 meters as an 11th grader. As a senior, Gilbert was already an extraordinary runner whose goal was to get a scholarship to an American school, get an education and return home to Burundi.
Fate had another plan for Gilbert.
In October 1993, the centuries-old war between the Tutsi and Hutu tribes erupted in horrific reality one afternoon as Gilbert and his classmates were in school. The Hutu classmates at the Kibimba school, their parents, some teachers and other Hutu tribesmen forced the Tutsi children and teachers into a room where they beat and burned them to death. After nine hours of being buried by the corpses of his beloved friends, and himself on fire, Gilbert jumped free of the burning building and ran into the night, the sole survivor of one of the most horrible massacres in the long Tutsi-Hutu war.
Now, 12 years later and more than 8,000 miles from Burundi, Gilbert Tuhabonye is a celebrity in the world of running. He went on to graduate college at Abilene Christian University where, despite being covered with scar tissue from his extensive burns, he was a national champion runner. A recent winner of Texas Citysport’s “Best of Texas 2005” award, Gilbert is now, by all accounts, the most popular running coach in Austin, Texas, where he and his wife Triphine and daughters Emma and Grace live.