Running is a sport that brings out the best in people. Unlike organized sports, where there is a team, a runner is competing for himself or herself, win or lose. And, unlike other sports, it isn’t always the competition that pushes athletes on. Sometimes it is a will and desire to achieve a goal, like running a marathon or overcoming adversity.
The biggest unifier there is sports-wise, running is one of those feats where the human spirit shines through. Christof Lindenbeck might have a story about organizing marathons, but the full story is one of triumph, empathy, and one person carrying the burden of an entire country.
When I interviewed Christof, I have to admit that it was hard for me to keep up with him. Not only do we speak different languages, but his enthusiasm was also pouring over, and I had a hard time keeping up with the many ventures that he has both accomplished and is currently working on. The amount of energy that Christof has, explains his amazing ability to hit the ground running, both figuratively and literally.
Christof is a 56-year-old German-born runner who was diagnosed 30 years ago with a highly painful condition similar to rheumatoid arthritis. Although told that his prognosis was not good, he refused to retreat to it and found that the more he participated in endurance sports, the more his symptoms lessened. Since 2001, he has participated in over 250 running events, with up to as many as 330 kilometers a race.
A humble man, when I asked him about his accomplishments, he was very shy and had a hard time taking credit where credit was due, but that is who he is. A selfless man with a goal to do some really amazing things halfway around the world from his homeland, and for a people he once met and couldn't leave in his past.
Christof has organized ten marathons in Tropical Africa between 2017 and 2018, which he admits was a feat that even he wasn’t sure that he could pull off. It was his commitment and drive that kept him going. That drive was Mon Devoir, a school that is located in the poor district of Lome, the Capital of Togo.
The school was initially built on two meters of literal garbage. The NGO raised the school from a single classroom to one that accommodated 1000 students from kindergarten to matura. The mon Devoir school is one of the few schools where Muslim children sit among Christian children in harmony. The school’s name Mon Devoir literally means “my duty” and resides in Lome-Agoe.
Christof’s mission was to change the inequity he saw between what he himself and his native land were accustomed to and what the people of Mon Devoir knew. He wanted to make sure that each child in the poor part of Lome would have the same opportunity to learn and to receive what most of us take for granted, an education. His dream, use his love of marathons to raise money, and that is just what he is doing!
Many of us have the desire to change the world one small challenge at a time, but, usually, real-life and obstacles too great get in the way. I was truly humbled by the spirit, the drive, and the determination of Christof. He has taken his triumph of overcoming a debilitating disease and turned it into something that will never be forgotten. Caring more about children halfway around the world than his own need for rest and downtime, he is a miraculous example of what we all should aspire to.
His mission not just to change the conditions of a small African village, but to change their hearts, their future, and to provide a little of the comfort that we all take for granted, has changed not just him but countless numbers of people around the world. Christof takes nothing for granted, nor does he ask for any praise, or even recognition for being the amazing soul he is.