Gilbert Tuhabonye was born on November 22, 1974, in the southern county of Songa in Burundi, a small mountainous country in east central Africa. He is the third of four children. His parents were part of the Tutsi tribe and were farmers by profession. They kept milk cows and raised potatoes, peas, corn and beans.
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 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.
On October 21, 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 more than a hundred 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 used the charred bone of one of his classmates to break through a window. He jumped free of the burning building and ran into the night, on charred feet, surviving one of the most horrible massacres in the long Tutsi-Hutu war. He ran from that horror into a new life.
Now, 18 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. He is now, by all accounts, the most popular running coach in Austin, Texas where he lives with his wife Triphine and two daughters, Emma and Grace.
Gilbert is the Owner/Founder of Gilbert's Gazelles, one of Austin's largest training groups for people looking to learn the basics of running, train for the Boston Marathon, and everything in between. He also is the Head Cross Country and Track Coach at St. Andrews High School, having led them to three consecutive state championships (2008-2010). In 2006, along with a few other running friends, Gilbert co-founded the Gazelle Foundation whose mission is to build water projects in Burundi. Fittingly, the Foundation's largest annual fundraiser is the Run for the Water 10-Miler, 5K & Kids K event held each fall in downtown Austin. He speaks English, French, Swahili and his own native Kirunde.
Media Inquiries: please contact Alicia Quinn Sankar, 1-512-394-1275.
Speaking Engagements: please fill out the Speaker Request Form.
Other Inquiries: please contact Mr. Tuhabonye's manager, Susan Lenihan, 1-512-346-6677.
This Voice in My Heart Reviews:
AllAfrica.com, July 15, 2009: Martyn Drakard