Duc Dong/AFP via Getty Images
She could have just quit. The race was long decided, and rain was falling in torrents. But Bou Samnang was running for her country — Cambodia — so she kept going, racing alone on a track in Phnom Penh. And for that, she is being hailed as an inspiration.
“I tried to reach the finish line because I wanted to show people that in life, even though we go a bit slow or fast, we will reach our destination all the same,” she said afterward, according to Agence France-Presse. “So we should not give up. We should try our best.”
Even if you’re in last place. 🏃
Even if the weather is terrible. 🌧️
Even if it feels like you can’t do it. 🚫
𝙉𝙚𝙫𝙚𝙧 𝙜𝙞𝙫𝙚 𝙪𝙥 💪
Nothing was going to stop Cambodia’s Bou Samnang 🇰🇭 from finishing the women’s 5,000 metre race at the #SEAGames. pic.twitter.com/iVMxwqVrFQ
— The Olympic Games (@Olympics) May 9, 2023
News of Bou Samnang’s persistence spread rapidly: Sports and news outlets around the world shared video of her finishing the women’s 5,000-meter race (3.1 miles) on May 8 at the Southeast Asian Games, which Cambodia is hosting for the first time.
She raced that day despite struggling with the effects of anemia, Bou Samnang told the AFP, adding that she was committed to run for her country.
“I knew I was losing. The rain was so heavy,” she said. “I had the right to abandon the race, but first I have a duty to represent Cambodia. So I did not give up.”
In the footage, the roar of rainfall is punctuated by cheers and shouts of encouragement as a drenched Bou Samnang finally nears and then crosses the finish line, almost six minutes behind the winner, Vietnam’s Thi Oanh Nguyen.
Bou Samnang clasped her hands to acknowledge the fans who braved the rain to cheer her on, her face wet with tears and rain as she lifted her country’s flag. The athlete said later that she was disappointed to finish last, but also happy to hear people supporting her — and surprised that the video caused such a stir.
Since last week’s race, Bou Samnang has continued to win fans in Cambodia and beyond. Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the athlete would get $10,000 as a reward for her determination.
Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP via Getty Images
Over the weekend, she returned to Morodok Techo Stadium to train and pose for photos with fans. As for what she’ll do with the money from Cambodia’s strongman leader, she said she wants to pay off her mother’s debts.
The runner’s persistence was also noted by Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni, who said he was proud of her for reminding everyone that sports are about more than winning and losing.
The SEA Games is a biennial competition that pits athletes from the 11 nations in the region against each other in 581 events. Its closing ceremony is set for Wednesday.
This story originally appeared on NPR