Blood Runner By James Riordan: From Humble Beginnings And Devastation To Great Success
The novel, Blood Runner, depicts a struggle that is still real to this day. A struggle that questions humanity on all levels. An African family experiences what can only be called the ultimate nightmare. As the story unravels, characters are faced with extreme brutality due to racism and a myriad of characters are lost to genocide. The reader travels to the not so distant past, to relive the pain and anguish the non-fictional characters face in the book. The discriminations and heartbreaks in the story lead the reader to understand why the characters take different paths in life. These relatable characters bring life to a story that is the truth of our world today, where tragedy and hope intertwine to create a hero.
The protagonist of the novel, Samuel Gqibela was a young black boy from South Africa. He lived in a family of six. His father, Albert, respected everything British. He preferred to be on the safe side of the law. On the contrary, Sam’s mother, Victoria, was not afraid of confrontation. She was the head of the household and always had her way. When the father heard about the protest in front of the police station his reaction was, “I knew it! Hotheads looking for trouble. I don't hold with breaking the law!”(Page 7). Sam’s mother, on the other hand, supported the protesters by cheering them on. Samuel also had two older brothers and a sister. One of the two brothers was named Looksmart, he was the oldest. His other brother was called Nicky and his sister was named Sally. As adults, Looky and Nicky became vengeful in regards to their lost loved ones. This loving family was destroyed after a meaningless political killing, leaving the three brothers as the only survivors.
At this point in time, Samuel and his two siblings were left in despair and an inspirational character entered the storyline. He was Uncle Sabata, the chief of Mmabatho. He offered the boys to live with him and his family. Samuel and Looksmart proceeded to join their uncle’s family leaving Nicky behind, due to his amputated leg. Uncle Sabata had many wives and children some of whom played a brotherly role towards Sam. As a young man, Sabata enjoyed running, thus he shared his interest by telling inspirational stories about black Olympians.
“I'm going to tell you about the first black African to win an Olympic gold medal in the marathon. It’s an incredible story, one to inspire us all, even more than that of Spiridon Louis, because this athlete was ours and he won the hardest race of all- the marathon. His name was Abebe Bikila and he came from Ethiopia in the north. He did more than win the marathon in 1960; he won it in 1964 too, the only man to win twice… In the three years after the Rome Olympics, he ran some thirty marathon-and won them all. He came first in the Tokyo Olympic marathon in 1964 with a new world record of 2:12:11, a whole four minutes before the second man, Britain’s Basil Heatley. Once more he returned home a hero, the first man to win an Olympic marathon twice”.
These stories intrigued Samuel and gave him hope to pursue a career in running. In addition to the influence that he had on his nephews, Uncle Sabata was able to offer them job opportunities at his gold mines after a certain age. While working in the mines, Samuel met Simon who would later become his best friend. They both shared the common pleasure of running. After hours, Samuel and Simon ran together encouraging and pushing one another to the limit. Simon brought the importance of using shoes to Sam’s attention. “Slowly but surely Sam got used to his feet being wrapped in rubber and cloth”. They had different abilities, one greater in stamina while the other possessed speed. Although their friendship didn't last, Simon’s impact on Samuel’s fate continued throughout the story. Eventually, Samuel started to get noticed by the Olympics, this was due to the apartheid ending after the freeing of all political prisoners such as Nelson Mandela. Prior to this, no black man was allowed to compete in the Olympics from South Africa. When apartheid ended in 1990, Samuel was given the opportunity to compete as a contestant in the Olympics. As Samuel's role model and hero, Nelson Mandela gave him a note which he strapped onto his leg stating, “Good luck, comrade. Show the world what we could have done, given half a chance. What we can do now we are free. And what great things we shall achieve in the future. Win for us, the new South Africa. Mandiba (Mandela)”. Sam went on to represent South Africa in front of the whole world knowing that he was representing his uncle and all the black men and women that had been mistreated by the government. When Samuel got older, he was introduced and later married a young woman named, Sinthee. Sinthee and Samuel had three daughters and were expecting their fourth child. They were the main motivation that encouraged Sam to push the limits. As his supportive family said, “You won't fail, husband. As long as you pray to the spirits, they'll protect you from injury. Not fail, Daddy, echoed his eldest daughter”.
His wife did not say much, but she brought a warmth to the family that was enough to bring joyand encouragement to everyone. Samuel Gqibela, an Olympic marathon gold medalist, is still a symbol of how humble beginnings and devastation can lead to great success when there was determination. This South African hero, fought against all odds to achieve the greatest dream of all. Along with his country, this young man held his head up high and looked to a bright future.