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

Chicago 17 FINAL
Detroit 34
Philadelphia 23 3rd Qtr 9:12
Dallas 10
Seattle 7:30 PM
San Francisco
Cleveland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Washington 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Tennessee 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Houston
San Diego 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
NY Giants 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Cincinnati 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Oakland 11/30/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
New Orleans 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Carolina 11/30/14 12:00 PM
Minnesota
Arizona 11/30/14 3:05 PM
Atlanta
New England 11/30/14 3:25 PM
Green Bay
Denver 11/30/14 7:30 PM
Kansas City
Miami 12/1/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
Edmonton 7:00 PM
Nashville
ULM 54 FINAL
Robert Morris 71
Santa Clara 57 FINAL
Tennessee 64
Oklahoma 59 FINAL
Butler 46
Austin Peay 79 FINAL
Brown 58
Princeton 56 FINAL
Texas-El Paso 62
Coastal Carolina 67 FINAL
Chattanooga 78
Kansas 76 FINAL
Rhode Island 60
Wisconsin 68 FINAL
Georgetown 65
FIU 53 FINAL
USC Upstate 68
Long Island 54 FINAL
Stony Brook 73
San Diego 71 FINAL
Xavier 82
Illinois 64 2nd Half 10:21
Indiana State 41
Cal State Fullerton 21 1st Half 5:41
Wright State 29
Western Ky 12 1st Half 11:40
Saint Josephs 8
Michigan State 8 1st Half 17:38
Rider 0
UCLA 6:00 PM
North Carolina
Marquette 7:30 PM
Georgia Tech
Long Beach State 7:30 PM
Western Mich
Stephen F Austin 8:00 PM
Prairie View
UAB 8:30 PM
Florida
Rice 8:30 PM
Mercer
San Jose St 10:00 PM
Washington
Washington St 10:59 PM
UC Santa Barbara
Baylor 10:59 PM
Memphis
LSU 6:30 PM
Texas A&M
(6) TCU 6:30 PM
Texas
Northern Ill 11/28/14 10:00 AM
Western Mich
Nebraska 11/28/14 11:00 AM
Iowa
Western Ky 11/28/14 11:00 AM
(19) Marshall
UCF 11/28/14 11:00 AM
So Florida
Houston 11/28/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Akron 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Kent State
Ball State 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Bowling Green
Buffalo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Massachusetts
Toledo 11/28/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
Arkansas 11/28/14 1:30 PM
(17) Missouri
Navy 11/28/14 2:00 PM
South Alabama
(13) Arizona State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(12) Arizona
Stanford 11/28/14 2:30 PM
(9) UCLA
(21) Colorado State 11/28/14 2:30 PM
Air Force
Virginia 11/28/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
East Carolina 11/28/14 7:30 PM
Tulsa
North Texas 11/29/14 11:00 AM
TX-San Antonio
Old Dominion 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Fla Atlantic
(16) Georgia Tech 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(8) Georgia
Kentucky 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(24) Louisville
So Carolina 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(23) Clemson
West Virginia 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Iowa State
Rice 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Louisiana Tech
Michigan 11/29/14 11:00 AM
(7) Ohio State
Purdue 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Indiana
Illinois 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Northwestern
Cincinnati 11/29/14 11:00 AM
Temple
NC State 11/29/14 11:30 AM
North Carolina
Syracuse 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Louisiana 11/29/14 11:30 AM
Troy
Utah 11/29/14 12:00 PM
Colorado
Texas State 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Idaho 11/29/14 1:00 PM
Appalachian St
Wyoming 11/29/14 2:00 PM
New Mexico
New Mexico St 11/29/14 2:00 PM
Arkansas State
UAB 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(4) Miss State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Notre Dame 11/29/14 2:30 PM
USC
(10) Michigan State 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Penn State
(22) Minnesota 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(14) Wisconsin
(5) Baylor 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Texas Tech
Florida 11/29/14 2:30 PM
(1) Florida State
Rutgers 11/29/14 2:30 PM
Maryland
San Jose St 11/29/14 2:30 PM
San Diego St
Tennessee 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Vanderbilt
Kansas 11/29/14 3:00 PM
(11) Kansas State
Connecticut 11/29/14 3:00 PM
Memphis
BYU 11/29/14 3:30 PM
California
ULM 11/29/14 5:00 PM
Ga Southern
Middle Tennessee 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Texas-El Paso
Hawaii 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Fresno State
Wake Forest 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Duke
Pittsburgh 11/29/14 6:00 PM
Miami-Florida
(15) Auburn 11/29/14 6:45 PM
(2) Alabama
(3) Oregon 11/29/14 7:00 PM
Oregon State
Utah State 11/29/14 9:15 PM
(25) Boise State
Washington 11/29/14 9:30 PM
Washington St
Nevada 11/29/14 9:30 PM
UNLV
UCF 12/4/14 6:30 PM
East Carolina
Hamilton 11/30/14 5:00 PM
Calgary
Hartford 43 FINAL
Furman 53
Clemson 77 FINAL
Ohio State 86
Idaho State 53 FINAL
San Diego State 68
East Carolina 58 FINAL
(22) Syracuse 69
Santa Clara 0 Cancelled
Texas-El Paso 0
Florida State 68 FINAL
Washington 80
Wichita State 39 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 56
Wisconsin 44 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 67
Kansas State 0 Cancelled
LSU 0
BYU 43 1st Half 0:36
BYU-Hawaii 25
Charlotte 26 1st Half 2:02
Montana 26
Illinois 22 1st Half 5:06
(9) Kentucky 29
Central Michigan 7:00 PM
Richmond
Oklahoma 7:15 PM
South Florida
Princeton 7:30 PM
Wake Forest
(19) Oregon State 8:00 PM
Butler
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.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 amX28-24
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa 11 amX51-14
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State 11 amX31-24
Nov 22 - at Nebraska 11 amX28-24
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin 2:30 pm

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Will the Gophers bring home The Axe?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close