A face familiar to the Abilene Christian University community is featured on the cover of President George W. Bush’s #1 New York Times bestseller, Out of Many, One.
Former ACU track star Gilbert Tuhabonye (’01), co-founder of Gazelle Foundation, is one of 43 immigrants whose portraits and inspirational stories are featured in the former president’s book, released April 20.
In an interview on The Today Show last week, Jenna Bush Hager says Tuhabonye is dear to the Bush family and that she was a member of his Austin running club while a college student in Austin.
“I was so inspired by his joy, his spirit and his incredible background that I shared his story with my dad,” she said.
Tuhabonye, a Tutsi and native of Burundi, survived a massacre at the hands of Hutus and eventually immigrated to the U.S. He recounts his journey in his 2009 book This Voice in My Heart and in speeches he delivers across the country.
His harrowing journey began on Oct. 21, 1993, when his Hutu classmates at the Kibimba school, their parents, some teachers and other Hutu tribesmen, forced more than a hundred Tutsi children and teachers into a room where they beat them and set them on fire. As dozens of his peers died around him, he says he heard a voice inside his head: “You will be all right; you will survive.” He used the charred bone of a classmate to break one of the room’s windows and run, on fire, to freedom.
Now, nearly 30 years later and 8,000-plus miles from Burundi, Tuhabonye is a celebrity in the world of running. He overcame language and cultural barriers to earn his degree at ACU where, despite being covered with scar tissue from his extensive burns, he was a national champion runner.
He is the founder of Gilbert’s Gazelles, one of Austin’s largest training groups for people looking to learn the basics of running, train for the Boston Marathon, and everything in between. In 2006, while on a 20-mile training run with a few other friends, he conceived the idea of what is now the Gazelle Foundation whose mission is to build water projects in Burundi. Fittingly, the foundation’s largest annual fundraiser is the Run for the Water 10-Miler, 5K & KidsK event held each fall in downtown Austin.
In 1999, he was presented the National Student-Athlete Day Giant Steps Award in the Courageous Student Athlete category by President Bill Clinton. In 2016, he was honored as ACU’s Young Alumnus of the Year.