Is Aklilu Based on a Real Marathon Runner?

‘Tyson’s Run,’ charting Tyson Hollerman’s inspirational journey as an autistic teenager with aspirations of becoming a marathon runner, delves into the athletic worldview of a small-town athlete. While Tyson’s inclination toward a sporty career path stems from his desire to form a connection with his emotionally distant father, Bobby, the boy finds a mentor in another runner, Aklilu. The man remains a reliable constant in Tyson’s narrative, sharing his extensive knowledge to harness the boy’s skill and prepare him for the upcoming city-wide marathon.

For the same reason, as the plot reveals more about Aklilu and his own past experiences as an Ethiopian runner with an impressive track record, viewers are bound to grow curious about the character. Consequently, it’s natural to wonder about Aklilu’s basis in reality.

Aklilu Is a Fictional Athlete With Realistic Complications

Even though reality partially inspires Tyson Hollerman’s story, the role Aklilu fulfills within the narrative is a complete work of fiction. As such, the character, created by writer/director Kim Bass, remains a vital but fictitious addition to the film. In Tyson’s story, Aklilu is a former athlete who runs a sports merchandise shop in the neighboring area. While the man’s glory days as one of the most talented runners in the world are over, his love for running persists, leading him to cross paths with Tyson.

Consequently, after a few friendly interactions on the track field, the Aklilu finds himself taking over as a mentor of sorts to the teenager. Thus, he’s one of the first people to support the latter’s marathoning dreams from their inception. For the most part, Aklilu finds his footing as a compelling character through his relationship with Tyson, building on their mentor/mentee dynamic. Therefore, the man adds an interesting contrast against Bobby’s less-than-supportive disposition, fulfilling a guardian role until Tyson’s father comes around.

Furthermore, Aklilu’s abandoned ties to the marathon world ensure he can guide Tyson and shape his skills in accordance with a near-professional training regime. Nevertheless, Aklilu’s own past with the sport remains less than idyllic. As it would turn out, his departure from an athletic career came with a lifetime suspension from the New York City Marathon after he failed his drug test. Consequently, even with his talent, the man can’t participate in official marathons anymore.

However, rather than an intentional offense, Aklilu fell an unwitting victim to the strict anti-doping rule after consuming some cold medication that ended up carrying a banned substance. While the matter highlights a stark lack of empathy from the marathoning community, the Ethiopian runner himself respects the rule and bears the blame for his lack of vigilance.

Although other aspects of Aklilu’s storyline remain devoid of real-life resonance, this plot point highlights a realistic debate brewing in athletic circles. The New York City Marathon is known for its strict anti-doping rules that assign any athlete a lifetime ban, even if the transgression emerges as a result of mistaken cold medicine consumption. Therefore, the film brings attention to this sector of reality through Aklilu’s narrative.

Nevertheless, there hasn’t been a case of the same in reality that mirrors Aklilu’s experiences in the film. According to reports, 2022 saw twenty-seven skilled Kenyan runners receive their suspension from the sport due to doping offenses, signifying a growing crisis in their home country. Athletes such as Titus Ekiru and Michael Njenga Kunyuga, both hailing from Kenya, remain recognizable examples of such extensive bans. Still, there’s no tangible proof that their situation mirrored Aklilu’s unjust suspension.

Therefore, even though these instances may provide a real-life context for Aklilu’s story, there’s no real-life counterpart that resembles the character and his relationship with the sports world. For the same reason, Aklilu’s roots as a character remain cemented in fictionality.

Read More: Tyson’s Run: Is the Movie Inspired a True Story?