Being an avid golfer, I recently took an early morning drive to my favorite golf course for my 7:45am tee-off. I usually get paired with another player which is nice because it’s a great way to meet new people. However, on this occasion, little did I know that the person I was paired would become an inspiration to me…and no doubt many others.
Walking into the pro-shop, the club secretary at the counter told me that I was paired with a guy named ‘Sentwali’. He pointed to a man on the practice green and said I could go ahead and introduce myself since we were teeing-off in the next 30 minutes. Walking up to him, I extended my hand and greeted Sentwali. He was a big man, at least 6’4’’ and of slim build. He had very dark skin and from his name I realized that he was probably from an African country like me.
It turned out he was a Kenyan born to Rwandan parents, and now living in New Zealand. After some brief musings in Swahili, my limited knowledge of the language broke the ice of our initial introductions with Sentwali laughing at my mispronunciation of the Swahili equivalent of “the loser buys the other a beer after the round”.
Sentwali was clearly a deft-hand with any golf club he held. At a 3 handicap, he bisected every fairway and hit every green in regulation. A round of 73, four hours later, confirmed that he indeed had a low handicap. But it wasn’t his golf game that impressed me...
You see when I asked Sentwali if he wouldn’t mind telling how old he was, he simply smiled and said “it’s the same as the atomic number of hafnium”. When he saw the dazed look on my face, he replied “72”. He had a few grey tufts of hair and a couple of lines on his face but other than that, he certainly did not look like your average 72-year-old…in fact, he didn’t even look like your average 40-year-old.
His posture was as close to perfect as I’ve ever seen and his gait was without any limping or impediment. I asked him what he secret was. He looked puzzled at my question. I rephrased it by asking him why he wasn’t hobbling about like many other guys his age. “If I could rule out genetics, I’d have to put it all down to living a simple life…eating in moderation…preferably only food I can grow and catch, drinking only tea and water with a glass or two of red wine over the weekend and like every other Kenyan, run a few miles every day,” he said.
It hit me like a ton of bricks! Here I was talking to a man who was four decades older than me and yet he was in better shape than I could ever imagine! Unfortunately, Sentwali had to endure a few mental and emotion hurdles in his past. He mentioned that he tried unsuccessfully to help his parents flee the horrors of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
The four hours or so I spent with Sentwali were inspiring to say the least. I met a man who had gone through more hardships than most people could ever imagine; he fought against the odds to ensure that he graduated with a PhD in engineering; he played golf like a seasoned professional; he had the build of an athlete half his age; his mind was as sharp as ever; and best of all, he never stopped smiling…only briefly frowning before looking down while mentioning the loss of his parents.
Society always hears about these amazing individuals who save lives or change the lives of millions, and yes by all means they are heroes indeed. However, it’s the people who we meet by chance…the kind of people who will hardly ever make the evening news headlines…that have the ability to really blow us away with their humility, personality, determination and sheer presence.