The Long Road to New York
Posted on October 18, 2010
Simon Bairu, 27, will make his marathon debut in New York on Nov. 7. He won the 2005 and '06 N.C.A.A. cross-country titles at Wisconsin and holds the Canadian record for 10,000 meters at 27 minutes 23.63 seconds. He ran 1:02:08 in finishing fifth in the Philadelphia half-marathon in September.
On Nov. 7, I will run my first marathon. At 26.2 miles, it is a journey that will not only take me through the five historic boroughs of New York but also to the extreme limits of my mental and physical capacity. My journey to New York has truly been one of improbable odds. It has been a journey that has afforded me the opportunity to compete in numerous countries and has led to many successes, including two N.C.A.A. cross-country titles and the Canadian 10,000 meters record.
My story is the accumulation of all that my parents had sacrificed for me and my two siblings. My story is unique to my perspective yet common in the fabric of my city, Regina, Saskatchewan, a community of native Americans, blue collar workers, and immigrants in Midwestern Canada. In order to understand my journey and what it is that fuels my desire to compete in one of the world's most prestigious events, you must understand the almost 7,000-mile journey from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where I was born to an Ethiopian mother and Eritrean father, to Regina, Saskatchewan, where my family finally settled after a brief stay in Athens when I was 4 years old.
My parents gave up dreams, hopes and aspirations all for the hope that my siblings and I could have a chance at a better life. When our family first arrived in Canada in 1988, there were times that seemed bleak. Our home was robbed two weeks after our arrival, yet my mother and father were determined to succeed for their kids. They were determined to do whatever it would take to adjust to our new home country, because they knew this was the place where my siblings and I would have the best opportunity to succeed.
The saying goes that it takes a village to raise a child, and no phrase better defines my career thus far. At the age of 14, after getting in a fight after school, my eighth grade teacher, Steve Wihak, decided the best punishment was to force me to join the local track club. This wasn't the first fight I had instigated and Mr. Wihak could have easily suspended me. Instead, he saw a potential within me. He believed in me. He didn't see me as a troublemaker; he saw me as someone who simply needed direction. He would often tell me later that, at that time, I was a child with a lot of energy and I just needed to channel my energy in a positive direction. Mr. Wihak introduced me to my high school club coach, Dr. Steve Gersten. Dr Gersten, a native of New York, saw something within me as well: he believed in me at a time when I didn't believe in myself. He wouldn't let me give up on myself. Dr. Gersten, along with my father, instilled in me an unwavering confidence that has withstood the ups and downs of my career. He provided me with the tools I needed to not only become a better athlete but also a better person. With his guidance I was able to get a full scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, where I graduated with a bachelor's degree in sociology in 2007.
Today, as I put in the final three weeks of preparation before the New York City Marathon, I think about how incredibly fortunate I am to have great training partners, family and friends who continue to inspire me and humble me with their unwavering support. Ten years ago I never thought I would be preparing for the marathon, let alone be sponsored by Nike. My life has truly been an amazing journey.
This is my story, and on Nov. 7 as I stand on the start line, staring down the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge with anticipation and adrenaline flowing through my veins, I will remember that I do not stand alone. I will be accompanied by all those who have helped me throughout my life prepare for this moment. hope they can take pride and comfort in knowing that their work, though often met with reluctance and aggression by my young and destructive self, was not in vain. I will stand there also thinking about my heroes, my rock, my parents. For them the opportunity that I have to run the New York City Marathon is a continuation of their journey, which started as nothing more than a glimmer of hope so many years ago, 7,000 miles away.
Simon Bairu of Canada will run his first marathon Nov. 7 in New York.
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The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
May 30, 2011 - Read more
Chicago Shamrock Shuffle
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Three First-Time Marathoners Preparing to Take On the World
October 28, 2010 - Read more
The Long Road to New York
October 18, 2010 - Read more