August 3, 2013 Updated: August 4, 2013 at 10:43 am
Most would have thought Baganizi Leonidas was running for his life as his bare feet slapped against the ground at an incredible rate in his home of Kabali, Rwanda.
And most of the time, that would be a fair assumption in a country that is littered with deadly diseases as well as continual restoration from the mass-genocide killings of 1994.
But Saturday he was just another smile among runners from Colorado Springs to Kabali, who jolted off the line simultaneously from more than 8,500 miles apart in the sixth annual Run for Rwanda 5K.
It was a joyous atmosphere on both sides of the world. About 500 combined runners packed the starting lines - an 8 a.m. start in Colorado Springs and a 4 p.m. start in Kabali - in an effort to raise money to fund a health clinic and other underdeveloped facilities in the impoverished African area.
Two of those, Colorado Springs natives Michael O'Malley and Jon Jon West, showed their support by carrying five-gallon jugs of water during their race at Cottonwood Creek Park.
The gesture was meant to symbolize the agony Rwandans have to go through to get clean water on a daily basis.
"When I was in Uganda these kids had to walk miles and miles with water. And I know the same is true in Rwanda," said O'Malley, who finished the 5K in 35 minutes, 35 seconds despite carrying a jug that weighed between 35 and 40 pounds. "This was good to see and realize how tough things are for them over there and why we need to extend a helping hand. . Today was just great."
Fast too. Times were significantly quicker from a year ago despite wet grass and loose gravel on the Springs' course, and humid weather in Rwanda.
In Kabali, Leonidas won the overall race in 16:50 and Niyidukunda Pacifique won the women's race in 18:50. Meanwhile back in Colorado Springs, Western State junior and The Classical Academy graduate Josh Simkins exacted some payback on last year's winner Tucker Hamilton, clipping him by 21 seconds and taking the race with a 16:20.
"I took second last year to him so I wanted to beat him this time," said Simkins, who took the lead after 400 meters and kept it throughout. "Maybe it's becoming a little bit of a rivalry."
And on the women's side, TCA senior Lauren Hamilton, who is months removed from winning three state titles at state track, won with a 19:59.
By the end, breathless runners, Rwandan music and barefooted runners with a jug of water in their hands all took part in raising an estimated $10,000 for the cause.
"We are extremely happy with the turnout and how everything went," said race director Kevin Werner, who also ran with a jug. "The compassion shown here was amazing."