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A PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM UPWORTHY
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Belgian Olympic marathoner breaks down in tears of disbelief upon hearing she finished 28th

38-year-old Mieke Gorissen had only been training for three years and the Olympics was just her third marathon.

Imagine deciding to take up a hobby that usually requires many years to perfect at age 35, and three years later ending up in the top 30 in the world at the highest international competition for it.

That's what happened to a 38-year-old math and physics teacher from Diepenbeek, Belgium. According to Netherlands News Live, Mieke Gorissen has jogged 10km (a little over six miles) a few times a week for exercise for many years. But in 2018, she decided to hire a running trainer to improve her technique. As it turned out, she was a bit of a natural at distance running.

Three years later, Gorissen found herself running her third marathon. But not just any old marathon (as if there were such a thing)—the marathon at the Tokyo Olympics. And not only did she compete with the world's most elite group of runners, she came in 28th out of the 88 competing in the race.



With the heat and humidity in Tokyo, even completing the race was a major accomplishment. (Fifteen women competing did not finish the marathon.) But to come in in the top 30 when you just started focusing on distance running three years ago? Unbelievable.

In fact, Gorissen could hardly believe it herself. A video of her reaction upon hearing her results has gone viral for its purity and genuine humility. "No," she said when a reporter told her she came in 28th in the race. "That's not possible."

Then she burst into tears.

Her emotional disbelief is so moving. "I was already happy to finish the race," she said through sobs. "I do think I have reached my goal and that I can be happy."

"I also think I lost a toenail," she added, laughing.

Even after the English translation ends in the video, it's clear how much this finish meant to her. A remarkable accomplishment for a 38-year-old who knits and reads for fun and who has only run two marathons prior to competing in the Olympics.

According to her Olympic profile, she's glad she got started with distance running later in life. "If I started running in my teens, it wouldn't have been good for me," she said. "I wasn't really happy then, I would have been too hard on myself and I would have lost myself in it in a way that wasn't healthy. It came at exactly the right time."

Congratulations, Mieke. You've given us all the inspiration to set new goals and dream bigger than we ever thought possible.


This article originally appeared on 08.12.21

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What Ethiopian runner Feyisa Lilesa risked with his Olympic protest.

Feyisa Lilesa used his global platform to call for an end to oppression.

Just as the Rio Olympics were coming to a close after two weeks of memorable moments, one athlete's political protest may go down as the most historically significant of them all.

It's not soon that anyone will forget the performances of Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel, or Michael Phelps. Nor will the Olympic firsts for countries like Kosovo and Fiji become diminished victories lost to time. The same goes for the inspiring display of sportsmanship between New Zealand's Nikki Hamblin and the U.S.'s Abbey D'Agostino.

It's the action that Feyisa Lilesa, an Ethiopian runner, took that may have the largest impact outside the sporting world.


Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images.

During Sunday's men's marathon, as Lilesa crossed the finish line, he held his arms crossed over his head. For much of the audience, this symbol likely didn't mean much. For the men and women of his home country, however, it was a rallying cry.

In Ethiopia, the sign made by Lilesa is a show of solidarity for the Oromo people, the country's largest ethnic group, of which Lilesa is a member.

Lilesa's protest against the Ethiopian government's crackdown on political dissent. Photo by Oliver Morin/AFP/Getty Images.

His protest was meant to draw attention to some of the atrocities being committed against the Oromo by the Ethiopian government.

Since November 2015, an estimated 400 Oromo have been killed by the Ethiopian government. Many more have been injured or arrested.

Human Rights Watch issued a report in June detailing the state-sanctioned atrocities in Ethiopia, which stemmed from last year's decision by the government to seize a section of Ginchi, a town roughly 50 miles southwest of the country's capital.

What was a forest and football field would be razed in favor of a government-sponsored investment project. In response, the Oromo people rose up in protest, which was followed by swift violence.

Photo by Gulshan Khan/AFP/Getty Images.

By participating in such a high-profile act of protest at the Olympics, Lilesa's life may now be in danger.

"If I go back to Ethiopia, the government will kill me," he told reporters after the race. "If not, they will charge me. After that, if they not charge, they will block in the airport in immigration. I want to move to another country and try to go to another country."

He hopes that he can obtain a visa to stay in Brazil and eventually find passage to Kenya or the U.S.

Lilesa, gold medallist Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, and bronze medallist Galen Rupp of the U.S. Photo by Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images.

Whether or not you're an expert on the oppression facing the Oromo people or the situation in Ethiopia, a man risked his life to draw attention to this issue.

Lilesa could have run the race, accepted his silver medal, and returned home hoping that his status as a sports hero would provide him relative safety. But for the sake of his people, he took action. If his action doesn't bring attention to what is seemingly a horrific abuse of human rights, is it all for naught?

Hopefully, this action, performed before a global audience, will inspire support for his cause.

As for what needs to happen in Ethiopia, HRW has some strong suggestions:

"Ethiopia’s brutal crackdown also warrants a much stronger, united response from the international community. While the European Parliament has passed a strong resolution condemning the crackdown and another resolution has been introduced in the United States Senate, these are exceptions in an otherwise severely muted international response to the crackdown in Oromia. Ethiopian repression poses a serious threat to the country’s long-term stability and economic ambitions. Concerted international pressure on the Ethiopian government to support a credible and independent investigation is essential. Given that a national process is unlikely to be viewed as sufficiently independent of the government, the inquiry should have an international component. Finally, Ethiopia’s international development partners should also reassess their development programming in Oromia to ensure that aid is not being used – directly, indirectly or inadvertently – to facilitate the forced displacement of populations in violation of Ethiopian and international law."

Additionally, HRW urges the country to drop charges against detained protesters, support an independent and transparent investigation into the government's use of force, prosecute those responsible for abuse, and work to restore trust between the Oromo people and the government.

Photo by Oliver Morin/AFP/Getty Images.

You can help ensure that Lilesa's message doesn't go unheard.

You can learn more about what's happening in Ethiopia; you can share your findings; you can write your representatives in Congress to let them know this matters to you. You can help ensure that his actions weren't in vain.

Getting older can come with a lot of difficulties. But perhaps the greatest is dealing with weird assumptions about things you can or can't do just because you've lived on this planet longer than others.

Unless, that is, you opt to simply leave those misconceptions in the dust.

That's what 80-year-old Kay and Joe O'Regan did when they decided to start running marathons at age 50.


Here they are crossing their first finish line together in 1986, alongside their most recent hand-in-hand victory:


But the O'Regans aren't just finishing marathons — they're snagging first place in their age brackets. In the Cork City Marathon, which took place on June 6, 2016, they had the fastest time for their group: 5:25:29.

Even though they took up running later in life, that hasn't stopped them from quite literally going the distance.

Photo by Darragh Kane, used with permission.

Joe has run in 29 marathons since 1986, but Kay has massively outpaced him with a whopping 113 marathons under her belt. She's won the Irish National Marathon Championships several times and has broken records too: Her time at the Cork City Marathon earned her the status of fastest 80-year-old woman in the United Kingdom.

While the couple has run many races together and separately, they ran both their first and their most recent (which will also be their last) holding hands.

Photo by Darragh Kane, used with permission.

Kay told People that she thought holding hands definitely helped give Joe the little burst of energy he needed to make it across the finish line — which just goes to show that even in a marriage 57 years strong, love is still key to getting through life.

Aside from their adorable finish, Joe and Kay said they don't see themselves as extraordinary in the slightest.

"Running is just something we do," Joe told Runner's World.

These octogenarians are proof that people are capable of amazing things at any age.

The O'Regans are far from the only ones demonstrating that through their hobbies.

Last year, 92-year-old Harriette Thompson from Charlotte, North Carolina, became the oldest woman to ever finish a marathon. That's 26.2 miles, folks. And she's 92.

Harriette Thompson finishing the San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. Image via ABC 10 News/YouTube.

86-year-old Yvonne Dowlen has been figure skating since she was 16. Even when she got a bad concussion at 80 and her doctor told her to hang up her skates, she pushed through and still manages to train for an hour every day.

No big deal, but 78-year-old Shirley Webb can deadlift 237 pounds and recently set the deadlift record in Illinois.

So yes, sure, for some people life might get slower with age. But these folks are living proof that it doesn't have to.

It doesn't mean you need to complete crazy feats of strength and endurance to stay fit and healthy. But if you like to be active, it's important to keep pushing yourself forward in order for your body to keep up with your goals.

And of course, it doesn't hurt to have a loving running body cheering you on.

Photo by Darragh Kane, used with permission.