Thursday, January 11, 2007

Watch Out for Tariku

NOT Tariku Bekele, Kennenisa’s younger brother, who has recently stepped up to the major league of running, not that Tariku… watch out for Tariku Aboset! Who in the world is Tariku Aboset? I will tell you in a minute, but first…

One of the most enjoyable things about running for me is to talk to other runners about it. I find that runners are always (well, almost always) happy and positive people. Runners are pleasant to talk to and there is no end to conversations that runners can have when they become acquainted to one another.

Being the introvert person that I am, I very rarely engage into conversation with total strangers whenever I fly. I like to keep to myself- curious thing for someone writing an open blog. Anyway, on one occasion when I was flying from Washington to Atlanta, I was somehow having a small talk with the passenger next to me even before the plane pushed back from the gate. The conversation quickly switched to the topic of running, which we both were very interested in, and we talked about running all the way until the plane landed in Atlanta.

Conversations with runners are always pleasant before and after races. Even during races, conversations that last many miles are often struck up with total strangers. Conversations about running are even more enjoyable when it is with someone I already know.

So it was the case in 2001, when I last visited Ethiopia, that I met some of my relatives that I had not met previously. It was Tariku Aboset and one of his brothers. I had heard over the years that Tariku was a pretty good runner who trained very diligently. But no one could tell me exactly how good Tariku’s running talent was. So when I finally met Tariku, we spent sometime talking about running. I had a million and one question about training and running in Ethiopia. At the time, Tariku already had some exposure to Ethiopian elite athletes so I was able to hear about how they trained and prepared for some of the major races. He also told me his time for 10K but I didn’t know what to make of it. The fact that Addis Ababa is 9000ft above sea level makes it a difficult place to run. So it was impossible to gauge how good a runner someone is solely based on his time run at altitude in Addis. Is a 30min 10K in Addis equivalent to a 27 min 10K at sea level?

Anyway, I was impressed with Tariku’s talent and dedication to his training, but considering all the running talent that Ethiopia has, I felt it would be a long shot to rise to the top and race internationally. Upon returning to the US, I did some research and contacted some people to see if I can find any way to offer him some help. None of the leads I had were promising and my mind slowly drifted away and went back to my regular routine. I still kept hearing that Tariku was training hard with very little resources he had.

Fast forward to January 10, 2007. I was reading through an article about the upcoming P. F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon scheduled for this coming Sunday January 14. The article talked about how the winners from the last two years (both Ethiopians) will be running again this year. It then went on to say that the past champions will be facing a newcomer who has been keeping pace with Haile Gebrselassie in training and is expected to be a “powerful contender” at the marathon on Sunday. I was not prepared for the sentence that followed:

Tariku Aboset, 24, from Ethiopia is the newcomer and though his marathon prowess is yet to be proven on a certified race course, his counterparts will be well-aware of his presence on race day.”

Whoa! I re-read it just to make sure. And then I started arguing with myself.

“Could it be the Tariku?”
“No, I would have known about it ahead of time.”
“But then the name is unmistakable and it is not even misspelled.”
“There is only one way to confirm.”

So I made a quick phone call here in the US and then another to Ethiopia. Tariku’s brother in Ethiopia confirmed to me it was indeed him.

I was simply stunned to see how far Tariku’s dedication has brought him. I felt so happy about his success, but also felt ashamed that I had not done more for him when I returned back to the US after I met him five years ago.

My direct contact with Tariku was obviously over a short time period but family members tell me that he is always a very pleasant person to be around. He is a person of faith and unbelievable work ethic. Tariku’s determination to consistently train himself, despite very limited resources, has obviously paid off.

Come Sunday, I will be eagerly waiting to see how well Tariku’s debut marathon turns out. I believe he has picked a good race to run. It appears that P. F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll marathon has recently become a destination of choice for Ethiopian elite athletes. This year’s elite field contains seven Ethiopian men (including Tariku) and four Ethiopian women. You will also remember that this is the same race where Haile Gebrselassie set a half-marathon world record last year. I hope Tariku will find similar success on Sunday. As I conclude, I would like to leave you with a quote from Abraham Lincoln that Tariku’s story has reminded me of:

“You can have anything you want, if you want it badly enough. You can be anything you want to be, do anything you set out to accomplish if you hold to that desire with singleness of purpose.”

Abraham Lincoln