Godwin Kabanda brings home the gold

Godwin Kabanda celebrates with teammates on the Northeast track team after winning a state championship in the 300 hurdles. CONTRIBUTED

Godwin Kabanda almost didn’t run.

He did, and he ended up making history.

Kabanda is a senior on the Northeast High School track team and during the Public League championships, he was a few feet shy of winning the 300-meter hurdles, an event he was a heavy favorite to win. But right before the finish line, he ended up on his knees, sore and bloody.

“I fell and I was really hurting,” said Kabanda, who lives in Rhawnhurst. “I had to go to the hospital to get stitches. I couldn’t finish the day, I couldn’t practice for a few days. It was really hurting.

“I didn’t like being inactive. I like running and practicing. I love being with my teammates because they understand what you have to do to be good at this sport. They always push me and I push them and I wasn’t able to run for a few days. That hurt worse than falling.”

Kabanda found something that takes the pain away.

A gold medal.

Kabanda might not have won a Public League championship but he did earn a state championship.

He won the 300-meter hurdles with a time of 37.29 at Shippensburg University, giving him a gold medal at the most prestigious event of the year.

“It’s crazy, I feel great about it,” said Kabanda, who started running when he was in seventh grade and didn’t take it truly seriously until he arrived at Northeast. “I didn’t really expect to win, but after thinking about all the hard work I put in over the years, I’m not surprised. My coaches, teammates, family and friends helped me get this far. I just ran.”

The few missed practices didn’t impact Kabanda’s performance at all. In fact, he felt strong after he crossed the finish line.

“I wasn’t tired, I never get tired,” said Kabanda, who played football and soccer before giving track a chance in middle school. “I felt great after the race. I got so many text messages, DMs and mentions. It felt good that everyone was happy for me.

“It was crazy, so many people were happy for me. My family wasn’t able to make it, but my younger brother runs with me so it was great to have him there. And my teammates. But everyone was happy for me. Everyone was proud.”

The state championship kicked off a great week for Kabanda, who two days before winning the medal was named prom king at Northeast’s senior prom.

And the gold medal should help him garner interest from colleges.

Kabanda heard from a few schools, but he hopes more offers roll in now that he is a state champ. If so, he hopes to run in college and hopefully get a degree that will put him on the path to success. He’s still not sure what he wants to major in.

“I was thinking something to do in medicine, but I don’t like blood too much,” Kabanda said. “I like science and helping people, but if that doesn’t work out, I like sports and sports marketing. I would like to stay in sports and do something in business maybe.

“I really want to go to college and I want to run in college. I would love to keep getting better. I think I can.”

Improvement is possible, but he’s also happy with where he is.

Obviously, bringing home a state championship is a great start, but that’s not the first thing he thinks of when talking about his track career. That might be the product of the hard work, but he credits his teammates and coaches for all his success. And he’s quick to share the glory of a state championship with everyone around him.

“There are so many people who helped me get this,” said Kabanda, who has family living in the Congo. “My best friends are guys who I run with. It’s hard to have friends away from track because you’re always out here. People don’t understand how hard it is to be good at this. You have to practice every day. Long days. My friends on the team know that and they’re here with me.

“I’ve been really lucky with my coaches, too. I’ve had so many. There are so many great coaches here. All have helped me learn something and they expect a lot from me. If they didn’t push me or tell me that I could do better, I don’t know where I’d be. But they did. And they’re the reason I won the (medal).”

As much as he’ll miss his days at Northeast, Kabanda is now looking forward to graduation. But just because he finishes school, that doesn’t mean he’s going to stop working hard on the track.

He still hopes to qualify for the Junior Olympics, and he also wants to remain in top shape so he’s ready for running at the next level.

“Winning a state championship is great, it’s really a huge honor,“ Kabanda said. “But I still want to get better. If I want to keep getting better, I have to work. I have a lot of friends I can work with, and we’ll push each other. That’s how you get better.”