One Woman’s Legacy

Amantle Montsho

We often ask ourselves, “What one person can do to make a difference?”  Too often, the barriers seem too high and the problems seem too big, but extraordinary change occurs when we have the courage to follow our passion.   The New York Times is following the story of Amantle Montsho, a female runner from Africa, who may become the first athlete from Botswana to win an Olympic gold medal in London.

Amantle Montsho’s Legacy

Montsho now has a sponsorship with Nike and earns prize money through races worldwide, including $60,000 for winning the world championships last summer — nearly four times the annual per capita income in Botswana. She finished eighth in the 400 at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

A relative unknown outside Africa, Montsho has become an icon in her home country. A billboard showing her wielding the powder blue, black and white of her nation’s flag stands above an industrial area of steam-pipe fitters and woodworkers. Editors at Mmegi, a newspaper based in Gaborone, said they had lost count of the number of times she had appeared on their front page.

Gaborone’s track at University of Botswana Stadium now attracts young athletes from villages afar. Practices are held in the late afternoon so runners can attend after class or work. Such programs were in their infancy and conducted on a volunteer basis when Montsho was a teenager. Now, several are held throughout the country, cultivating a new generation of female runners.

When Montsho, often wearing brightly colored headbands and matching nail polish, passes through Gaborone, she occasionally takes a lap on the track. Known for her shyness and modesty, she continues to make her way through the country as if she is not famous, locals say.

“Amantle! She’s our girl,” Tshepang Olerato Tlhako, a 19-year-old in Gaborone, said. “She puts Botswana on the map and motivates us. Most of the girls think that sports are a man thing. I don’t know why. Amantle has helped.”

Sethunya Sejoe, a 20-year-old runner, was stretching under an unforgiving sun at the university track. “Amantle showed that if you have the passion, you can do it,” she said.

“I want to be like her.”