from The Nehemiah Rules
Renaldo Nehemiah would make anyone’s short list of the best athletes on the planet during our life time. Renaldo was the top hurdler in the world for decade, played in the NFL for the 49’ers, and won the TV “decathlon” show Superstars four times. Today he is still very active in the business side of our sport. AthleteBiz welcomes Renaldo as a guest blogger.
The year was 1989, I was invited to New Delhi, India, to compete in an international track meet. It was my first time in India. As an invited guest, I received a ceremonial welcome, and was assigned a liaison to assist us during our stay. My very first observation was of the oppressive heat and poverty that enveloped New Delhi. There were people, cars and various animals moving in unison like a crazy circus. We had to stop several times during our drive to our hotel only to realize the reason was that a cow was standing in the middle of the road. The cow is a sacred animal in India. Everyone patiently waits until the cow decides to move. This situation was less than ideal for me, since I was sitting in a car without air-conditioning. Once I arrived at my hotel, I didn’t care that it was 100+ degrees outside, and that no one was swimming in the pool. I couldn’t wait to eat the spicy authentic Indian food, my favorite cuisine.
Living on the east coast and being exposed to the hot sticky humid summers, I thought I was prepared for this kind of heat. But, the only escape from it was inside my hotel. I wasn’t going to stay cooped up inside without venturing out to go shopping and seeing Delhi. While out, I was amazed to see some of the natives covered in sheet-like garb from head to toe. They had to be sweating, because I was dripping wet in my shorts and t-shirt. I would learn years later when having to wear full length ceremonial clothing in Doha, Qatar a place equally as hot, that being covered actually insulated and cooled the body from the heat. And it was quite comfortable.
After enjoying Delhi for 2 days, it was time for the competition. Thankfully, due to the temperature the event didn’t start until the evening after dark. The national stadium was full and alive with excitement. My race wasn’t scheduled until about 09:30 p.m. Due to the extreme heat my normal warm-up routine was shortened from 1 hour and 15 minutes, to about 45 minutes. I made sure to take several water breaks throughout, and stop to rest about every 15 minutes, so not to exert too much energy. My race goes off as planned and I not only win but establish a new stadium record and world leading time. As we’re nearing the end of the event, I am informed that I’ve been named the Outstanding Athlete of the Meet, and will have the distinct honor of meeting Prime Minister, Rajiv Ghandi, and join him as his guest in the royal box in the stadium. I was both excited and humbled by the opportunity to meet the Prime Minister of India. I had one previous honor of meeting the leader of a country, and that was when I met U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 1980, under the cloud of our US Olympic Boycott of the Moscow Olympics games. I was escorted by security up to the Royal Box. Upon arriving, I was met personally by Prime Minister Ghandi. He congratulated me, and presented me with flowers and a grand trophy. He was a regal man, who exuded great humility and had a gentleness about him. Although it was my first experience speaking at length to a dignitary of his stature, he made me feel welcome and comfortable. We spoke about many different topics; my family, my life as an athlete, my education and of course, what my thoughts and experiences were of New Delhi. I felt so proud and honored to represent my country at that very moment. As the evening was about to end, we were swarmed by dozens of fans, especially, the young boys & girls that wanted pictures with both the PM and I. It was surreal and I thought nothing of being in danger at any time. He was beloved by everyone.
Fast forward to 2 years later, and I see on the news that Prime Minister Rajiv Ghandi, the very man I sat with and walked through swarming fans was killed by a suicide bomber, along with 14 others. That very thought shook me to my core. That could have easily taken place when I was there visiting with him. As reported, he was campaigning and about to take the dais, when a young girl approached him and bent to kiss his feet. Then detonated the bomb attached under her dress. Any one of those little girls or boys could have approached us with that same smile and boom….I would have been an International headline of grave consequences. Trying to reconcile this, my only takeaway was that God’s arms of protection were clearly surrounding me and that situation. God was in control. “For by grace, are ye saved through faith. And that not of yourselves. It is a gift from God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2 vs 8-9 KJV. I’ve never forgotten my experience in New Delhi. Nor have I forgotten PM Rajiv Ghandi. He may have known his life was at risk, but he choose to serve his people, trying to improve life in his beloved India. “However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” Matthew 24 vs 36 NLT. Take time out this Thanksgiving season to count your blessings. All of them, no matter how big or small because there have been many. And be a blessing to someone else. It is truly more blessed to give than to receive. When we leave this earth all we leave behind are memories that we’ve implanted. Because it can all change in a moment.