Q&A WITH… DIANE NUKURI

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Country: Burundi /United States of America

Profession: Athlete

Career highlights:

  • 3X Olympian: 2000 Sydney, 2012 London, 2016 Rio
  • Burundi national records: 10 000m (31:28.69), Half Marathon (69:12), Marathon (2:27:50)

Diane started running as a 13 year-old in primary school, where they would have an hour of physical activity every day. Two years later she was selected to represent Burundi in the 2000 Sydney Olympics where she competed in the 5 000m.

In 2001 Diane made a life changing decision. While competing at the Francophone Games in Canada, she fled to Toronto, seeking asylum from the Burundian Civil War. The civil war started in 1993, when she was 8 years-old and she had already lost her father to the conflict. She was granted asylum and her running soon drew the attention of coaches from the USA. She moved to the US in 2004, where she won 9 NJCAA national championships and 17 NJCAA All-American honours.

She became a U.S. citizen in 2017 and holds dual citizenship from both Burundi and the United States. She became eligible to compete internationally for the United States in February 2020.

You went to your first Olympic Games at 15. What was that experience like for you at such a young age? 

I was very shy and young. I didn’t do much there besides racing and walking around the Olympic village. I was very overwhelmed with everything in a good way. 

We have read that in Burundi growing up, girls just didn’t run! Gender norms are so much part of a culture – how did you break free from these norms and keep running despite the comments to stop from those around you?

At first I started running because I wanted to travel and experience what it felt like to leave my village. I didn’t realized women didn’t run until our neighbours started to come over to complain to mom saying it’s embarrassing when they see me run around the village in tights. I didn’t care about their opinions, so I just kept running. As long as I was doing my chores, going to school, I could keep running.

What would you say to young girls that are worried about getting muscular and ‘looking like a man’ if they run or play sport? 

I just laugh thinking about it. I would say be comfortable in your own skin and don’t worry too much about what people say. People will always make negative comments. Do what makes you happy and take care of your body. I don’t consider myself muscular, but I still get messages from people back home saying I don’t look like a Burundian woman….all I can do is laugh. 

You had some horrific experiences as a young girl, but the decision to seek asylum must have still been an incredibly difficult one. Can you take us through your thought process that led to that decision?

The hardest thing for me was to leave my family behind. Though we had ups and downs, we had everything we needed to live a decent life. We had a big farm, we had cows, goats, sheep and chickens. We loved each other and shared everything and I missed this the most while in Canada. But other than that, I was ready to make life changing decisions for my future, and Knew I needed to make the hard choices.

What does your Burundian heritage mean to you? 

It means everything to me. I learned family values, traditions and culture.

If you weren’t an athlete, what would you be?

I would probably be a coach or a real estate agent.

What is your favourite place to visit?  

My favourite place to visit is Burundi, especially my village where I grew up, Kigozi-Mukike. I’ve been to so many beautiful places, but home is where my heart is. 

Whenever I visit, I love eating in the capital city. I don’t have a favourite restaurant because I think they are all good, but Hotel Club Du lac Tanganyika definitely has the best sea food.

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