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From Uganda to Vancouver: running coach Godfrey Mende shares his story

Long-distance and multiple-marathon runner Godfrey Mende, talks about running, Africa, his family, life and values. He was born in Uganda, immigrated to Canada in 1991, graduated in Langara College's recreation program in 2006 and lives with his wife, Esther, and their three children in Vancouver. Godrey gives running classes at Bonsor Recreation Complex in Vancouver. His story is not only the story of a successful immigration, but his personality can also be an inspiration to others.

VO: When did you first decide to become a runner?

Godfrey: I never decided to become a runner, but running was part of my lifestyle. I was born in a country, which is different from Western countries in terms of ways of moving. Back where I come from, we depend on our physical ability, walking. So we walk, wherever we go.

My school was far away from my home. It was 8 miles away and I had to walk to school back and forth - that is 16 miles every day. It took me so long to get to school and it meant that I was always late. So I had to find out ways to get to school in time and that was to run and walk, run and walk. Eventually I was able to run from home to school - back and forth for seven years throughout the elementary school period. After that I went to high school, which was residential. It was from there that I started running competitively and then went running for long-distance and marathons. It just became part of my life.

VO: So you’ve done marathons all over Europe and North America?

Godfrey: I did marathons mostly in European and African countries. North America not much, more during my older age. There I ran Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle three times, San Diego two times, Portland two times, Chicago one time, Boston one time. I wanted to run the New York marathon, but that year I went back to school. In two years from now, before I retire, I plan to do the New York marathon. It is one of the most well-known marathons, like Berlin.

VO: You obviously travelled a lot. Was it difficult for you to accustom to different countries and cultures?

Godfrey: Yes it was. This is something that is obvious. When you leave your country and go to another country, no matter how good that country may be, you will feel that there are differences, in everything –the food you eat, the culture, the weather. The weather plays a very big factor, because you feel it’s too cold, you don’t know what to wear, you freeze.

VO: Why did you choose to leave Africa and come to Canada?

Godfrey: In Africa, politically things were not good. I didn’t come here because I thought “maybe the grass is greener there”. I came here to seek peace.

VO: What do you like most about Vancouver?

Godfrey: I like Vancouver because it is peaceful. I feel safe.

VO: What do you enjoy most about teaching running classes?

Godfrey: What I enjoy most is seeing people who have the motivation, who want to do it and who ask questions. And I really enjoy to share - I wouldn’t say teaching- I share with them my own experience.

VO: What do you live for? 

Godfrey: First of all I live, because I want to share my experience with people and I want to be there for my family. I am married and I have three children. I have two boys and one girl, beautiful kids. My son is going to SFU and studies Economics. My daughter is going to college, she is twenty-five years old and I’ve got a son, who is nineteen years old. My children and my wife are the reason, why I am living. I have got a beautiful wife, who works with young kids in a day-care. My wife was a teacher back at home, but when she came here, she couldn’t teach. So she went to college for two years, in the certificate program “Early Childhood Education” and she is happy. Obviously, here in Canada, we are happy. We came here all of us. My youngest son came here, when he was one and a half years old, my daughter was five years old and my older son was seven years old.

VO: How old are you?

Godfrey: 56. I am going to be 57 in July. I am not a young man.

VO: But you still run very well.

Godfrey: That’s because I don’t tell my head that I am 56. I tell my head that I can still do, what I used to do when I was 20 years old. Always tell your head “I can still do this”, and do it.

VO: And your children are also into running?

Godfrey: Yes, my son is a runner. He used to run when he was at high school. When he was at grade 12, he came to me and said: “Dad, I want to train for the Sun Run. Can you help me?” So I trained him for four months and he did the Sun Run in 36 minutes, ten kilometers. Then he came again and said “I want to train for a half-marathon”. He was the third of the road and that inspired him. I am proud of my family. I want to be there for my children. And I tell them: “Don’t move out until you feel you are secure and you establish yourself. Save your money or pay for education, so that this education will help you. When the time comes, you can move out and you will have all the things you need for you to start life. But at this time, while you are living with us, we will buy food and you’ll sleep in our house for free“. So all of our children sleep with us at home.

VO: You are obviously close and understand each other very well.

Godfrey: Of course. My children are not into drugs, they are well-behaved. I teach them good manners. “Say hello to neighbours, don’t just pass. You have to say hello.” I know that there are rude people, but because one person is a bad person, you can’t just think everyone is bad. So I tell my kids: “Always respect people, always say hello and don’t talk back to teachers. Have respect. Don’t take your cell phone to school, leave it at home.”  One time my daughter came back home and said: “There was a kid at school and she didn’t have enough money and so I decided to share with her.” I gave her a hug and said: “That’s what you should do”.

VO: Thank you for the interview!

Godfrey: You’re welcome. I hope this will help you. Just like me, if I wanted something, also I would need somebody to help me.

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