Saturday January 11 2014

Achon starts revival of grass-roots athletics

Achon (R) often solicits support for his community from

Achon (R) often solicits support for his community from USA. He has long-term plans for local athletics. Agencies photo 


In 1989, he ran 72 km barefooted from Orum Primary School in Otuke District to Lira. He did it for the love of athletics. On reaching Lira, Julius Achon competed in 800m, 1500m and 3000m races at the District Championships on the same day. Although still aged only 12, he won all the races.

That sad but rewarding venture marked the start of an illustrious career on the track. In 1994, Achon recorded the biggest achievement of his career, claiming gold in 1500m at the World Junior Championships in Lisbon, Portugal. The following year, he won bronze at the All-Africa Games in Harare, Zimbabwe.

In 2004, he pulled out of the Olympic Games in Athens after his mother was shot and killed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels in northern Uganda.

After spending several years studying and working in USA, Achon is back home. He is embarking on a journey that at times (more so in Uganda) seems like a one man’s journey. He wants to unearth new athletes in the country, give them guidance and push them to the same levels that he scaled.

For three years now, Achon has been organizing cross-country races in his home district, Otuke.
Currently, he is running a three-month training camp at Orum Primary School where children from the whole of northern Uganda are receiving specialized training. “It is common knowledge that we have no structures in this country yet it has a lot of potential. That is the main reason as to why I started the training camp,” Achon said of the camp that has already lasted one month.
“We also have very few events that athletes can take part in throughout the year.

This is one of the reasons why you find cheating in events like primary school competitions,” the 37-year-old, keen on introducing more competitions, especially in the countryside, revealed. He cited an embarrassing example in 2011 when a soldier from Mbale was caught taking part in the National Primary Schools Athletics Championships.
Embarking on his project, Achon thinks one does not need a lot of money to do basic athletics development in Uganda. “As long as you have the passion for something, others will come in along the way,” he said. “ I hope government and other athletics lovers can undertake similar projects.”

Achon’s holiday camp initiative is only the second in the country following the one run by Western Region Athletics Association (WRAA).

Ahead of the cross-country season, WRAA are, for the umpteenth time, running a training clinic in Rukungiri District. Achon has been getting assistance from kit manufacturers Nike and believes that if everyone pulls in the same direction, Uganda can start rivalling East African athletics giants Kenya and Ethiopia.

Already, the sportswear company has helped him build two bore-holes for his community, the only health centre in Otuke District as well as funding his Achon Uganda Children’s Fund that looks after 44 orphans who live with their parents as well as providing scholarships to four local athletes.

His work has not gone unnoticed by the central government. In September 2012, Achon was invited to State House for a meeting with President Museveni.
The former middle distance ace says Museveni pledged to support his projects. Little has come out of State House as of now, though. “I am determined to make a difference,” he promised.