Growing up in Congo, Makorobondo “Dee” Salukombo’s childhood was tainted by a civil war that forced his family to flee their village of Kirotshe. First, Dee’s father escaped to Uganda when he was imprisoned and nearly executed. A year later, Dee’s mother ran with Dee and his 11 siblings across the border into Uganda. He says, “In Congo, nobody runs. You run from guns. You run from danger.”
Before they knew it, they were in Cleveland, Ohio, where Dee first started running competitively. After Dee’s sophomore year of high school, his coach wrote on a poster: “I support you at districts, at regionals, at nationals, and the Olympics.” At that moment, an Olympic-sized passion filled him, and he set his eyes on the 2016 Olympics.
His junior year, he began to think, I wonder if there’s a kid in Congo who’s even better than me. If I make it to the Olympics, great. But what if somebody else—through what God has given me—could also be a part of this journey. If they make it and I don’t make it, that would be great, too! And that’s when he thought of Project Kirotshe, his effort to empower kids in his war-torn country. But it had to wait.
After high school, Dee went to Denison University where he met coach Phil Torrens, who had recently lost his son. Remembering Torrens’ face after he won a meet, Dee says, “I saw him happy for the first time. After I won, he was just laughing. My winning brought a change, brought hope, brought joy. I wanted to win as many races as I could, just to see him happy.” Soon, his college career was over and he went back to Congo in 2012. Finally, he launched Project Kirotshe.
“Almost 300 kids showed up the first day!” says Dee, now 27, “They’d show up at my house at 3AM, ‘Let’s go run! Let’s go run!’ and they would just sit outside until 5AM, and go run and come back.” Since that first morning, he has put his heart and soul into training these kids so that they can know what it is like to be a part of something, to know what it is like to have hope and faith and someone to look up to.
Dee says, “They are searching. They are crying. They are screaming for someone [to stay]. And for so many years, they didn’t have that. We’re building, and we could build something beautiful.” He wants to inspire; he wants to bring joy; he wants to make God smile.
19-year-old Beatrice Kamuchanga was one of those kids. And with Dee’s coaching, she qualified for and ran the women’s 5,000 meter race in Rio. Dee’s long-time wish to share this experience with a student became reality. At Rio, they both ran terrific races, bringing glory to God.
When Dee ran the marathon in the Olympics, he was all smiles, just as he hoped he would be. As he crossed the finish line, his promise to those kids was written all over his face: “I’m not running for myself. I’m running for those kids in Kirotshe. [Beatrice and I will] leave everything we got on that field, with happy hearts, with smiling hearts.”
Copyright © 2016 Struggle and Triumph