Abda's running fast for Gophers after escaping turmoil in Ethiopia

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 8, 2013 - 12:52 AM

Harun Abda, a refugee from Ethiopia, wants to do well in his final Big Ten meet, then run in the Olympics.

hide

Gophers runner Harun Abda, who has 16 siblings, likes running in front in races rather than being in the pack. He is a six-time All-America and one of the 800-meter favorites in the Big Ten meet.

Photo: KYNDELL HARKNESS, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

These days, Harun Abda can smile when he runs. The passion, the determination, the impetus are all still there.

But after fleeing political turmoil and oppression in his native Ethiopia and bounding into the unknown as a refugee, the senior Gophers track star now runs simply because he wants to.

With the breeze at his back and a contagious smile painted across his face, Abda heads into the Big Ten Championships — which start Friday in Columbus, Ohio — looking to cap an impressive college career that he hopes will take him to the next level.

To get to that point, Abda has exerted an inordinate amount of focus and grit both toward his sport and his foremost goal — graduating, which he is expected to do later this month. But through the grind, one impression strikes Abda’s coaches and teammates: He’s having a ball.

“I’ve seen a lot and I went through a lot,” said Abda, who became a United States citizen last year. “Sometimes [people] ask me, ‘Why are you still smiling?’ … But when you go through all this and now — you have nothing to fear.”

There’s plenty to elicit a grin now for Abda, a six-time All-America and three-time Big Ten indoor champion in the 600 meters, a competitive relay runner and one of the best 800 runners in the country. His coaches say he has a chance at the Olympics, which is the next goal for the versatile runner who ran the 800 at the Olympic trials last year.

“He’s fast,” Gophers coach Steve Plasencia said matter-of-factly. “He’s not afraid to challenge himself. … He runs best when he runs from the front, which means you have to go out with a little bit of reckless abandon. He’s not afraid to take the lead, which takes some courage.”

It’s a character trait forcibly instilled a decade ago, when upturned lips didn’t come so easy.

Rough childhood

Abda grew up in a tiny town called Shashamane in central Ethiopia, where his father was the equivalent of the mayor. When the opposing political party took control, his father was imprisoned. When he broke free seven years later, his father made his way to Kenya, where he met with Abda’s uncle, sending him back to warn the family and urge them to follow.

“They were basically running for their lives,” Gophers assistant coach Paul Thornton said. “He tells stories about being on a bus and traveling through Kenya and there would be checkpoints in which they would have to scurry off the bus and hide in a ditch.”

The family of 17 — Abda, his mother and 15 of his 16 siblings (the eldest, Salahadin, had fled the country immediately following his father’s escape) — would jump off at every checkpoint, walking wide circles around the barriers and meeting up with the buses on the other side, Abda said.

After three years as refugees in Kenya — unable to go outside for fear of being caught — the family received word of Salahadin winding up in Minnesota and, with the help of the United Nations, joined him.

“We came in April and it was nice that year,” Abda said. “We were like, ‘Oh man, this is like a dream country.’ Everything is green, the sun is out. We were like, ‘Wow!’ And then we got to winter.”

Abda, who in ninth grade was unable to speak a word of English, took up track as a sophomore at Fridley at a neighbor’s urging. It seemed he was a natural. Abda went to the state meet his first season running, and won the Class 2A state title in the 800 as a senior, catching the eye of Plasencia and Thornton, who works most closely with him now.

Olympic potential

Still, the multifaceted Abda has taken the Gophers a little by surprise. He improved his 400 meters time from 49 seconds to a little more than 45 seconds, while racking up accolades individually and in the 4x800 relay, which the Gophers won for the third consecutive year at the Drake Relays two weeks ago.

“You knew he was going to be good, but at what level is he going to be good was yet to be seen,” Thornton said. “A lot of guys can run a 400, 600 and 800, but … it’s not like he’s just out there running it. He’s running it better than anybody else has ever done. That’s impressive.”

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Texas - WP: N. Martinez 7 FINAL
Oakland - LP: S. Gray 2
Boston 0 Bottom 2nd Inning
Pittsburgh 1
Toronto 0 Bottom 2nd Inning
NY Yankees 0
Washington 0 Top 3rd Inning
Miami 1
Los Angeles - Z. Greinke 7:05 PM
Chicago Cubs - T. Wada
Cleveland - D. Salazar 7:10 PM
Houston - S. Feldman
Milwaukee - K. Lohse 7:15 PM
St. Louis - S. Miller
Arizona - V. Nuno 7:40 PM
Colorado - Y. Flande
Philadelphia - K. Kendrick 8:10 PM
San Diego - R. Erlin
Seattle - F. Hernandez 9:05 PM
LA Angels - W. LeBlanc
Tampa Bay 7:25 PM
Atlanta
San Diego 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Dallas 9/21/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Washington 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Houston 9/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Minnesota 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Tennessee 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Baltimore 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland
Green Bay 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Indianapolis 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Oakland 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New England
San Francisco 9/21/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Denver 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Kansas City 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Miami
Pittsburgh 9/21/14 7:30 PM
Carolina
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
(5) Auburn 0 1st Qtr 13:19
(20) Kansas State 0
Connecticut 9/19/14 7:00 PM
So Florida
Old Dominion 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Rice
Troy 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Georgia Tech 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Virginia Tech
Eastern Mich 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(11) Michigan State
Iowa 9/20/14 11:00 AM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/20/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Maryland 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Syracuse
Tulane 9/20/14 11:30 AM
Duke
Hawaii 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Marshall 9/20/14 1:00 PM
Akron
North Carolina 9/20/14 2:30 PM
East Carolina
Army 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Virginia 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(21) BYU
(6) Texas A&M 9/20/14 2:30 PM
SMU
Rutgers 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Central Mich 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Kansas
Utah 9/20/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Florida 9/20/14 2:30 PM
(3) Alabama
Louisville 9/20/14 2:30 PM
FIU
Fla Atlantic 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Wyoming
Indiana 9/20/14 3:00 PM
(18) Missouri
San Jose St 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Minnesota
Texas State 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Illinois
Massachusetts 9/20/14 3:00 PM
Penn State
Georgia State 9/20/14 5:00 PM
Washington
Appalachian St 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Miss State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
(8) LSU
Northern Ill 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas
Middle Tennessee 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Memphis
Utah State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Miami-Ohio 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Idaho 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Ohio U
Ball State 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
(14) So Carolina 9/20/14 6:30 PM
Vanderbilt
(4) Oklahoma 9/20/14 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Ga Southern 9/20/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
UNLV 9/20/14 7:00 PM
Houston
(22) Clemson 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State
Miami-Florida 9/20/14 7:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
New Mexico 9/20/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 9/20/14 9:00 PM
Arizona
Louisiana 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Boise State
(2) Oregon 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
San Diego St 9/20/14 9:30 PM
Oregon State
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(25) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(12) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Toronto 9/19/14 9:00 PM
Brt Columbia
Edmonton 9/20/14 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Calgary 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Ottawa 9/21/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Montreal 9/26/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 9/26/14 9:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/27/14 5:30 PM
Winnipeg
Brt Columbia 9/27/14 8:30 PM
Calgary
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.
Sep 27 - at Michigan TBA
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Vikings and Gophers do this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close