‘Never hesitate with fright’
Wisconsin's Mohammed Ahmed thrives in new surroundings
EUGENE, Ore. -- Standing at a bus stop in Ontario, Canada, Mohammed Ahmed was not a happy 10-year-old. His family had moved from Kenya to Canada and the grip of winter was just beginning. It was the first time Ahmed had seen snow and he was not happy about it.
He was complaining to his mother about their new life, but his mom knew this was the right thing to do for the family. She looked at her oldest son and recited a poem she had written in her mind but not on paper.
Part of the poem said, “From our present circumstances we will take flight, like a kite, so darling never hesitate with fright.”
Ahmed is more than 10 years removed from that afternoon, but he still remembers it like it was yesterday. In many ways, Ahmed, a senior at Wisconsin, has led his life like the poem his mother recited, never afraid to take chances in his young life.
He never had any formal training in running until he was in high school, with his roots in running beginning on the streets and playgrounds of Canada.
“I have three brothers, all younger, and two were close to my age and we did everything together,” Ahmed said. “My mom bought us basketball and soccer balls and would take us to the park and we would play with each other for hours. The competition between us brought the love of sports and running out of us.”
There was no need for a race track, the brothers could declare an impromptu meet just about anywhere.
Ahmed did have success in the sport, however.
“I went out for the cross country team when I was in seventh grade and the first race I did I finished fifth,” he said. “I was getting taller and that’s when I started to get thinner. The sport was on television and we used to watch it all the time. I started taking running seriously a year later.”
He took it seriously but still was not really sure how to run properly. There was a start and a finish and that was about all he knew.
“I didn’t train all the time and didn’t have a club to run with and the other kids did,” Ahmed said. “I wanted to qualify for the big meet and I missed by one spot so I was very disappointed and the following spring I was so motivated.”
In the summer before starting high school, Ahmed did join a club team and noticed his times getting better and his knowledge of the sport growing.
“I traveled all over and got such good experience,” Ahmed said. “That is when I started to fall in love with it. I learned racing techniques and how to train harder. I learned how to get to the next level and it showed me what it took. My teammates really pushed me to be a better runner and set goals for myself.”
He competed in the World Juniors and finished ninth. It was soon after that college coaches came knocking.
“I think I was one of the youngest runners there so I got a lot of attention,” Ahmed said. “That was the highest finish by a Canadian. That really put me on the map.”
Ahmed ultimately chose Wisconsin and it was a fairly easy decision for several reasons.
“I really liked Madison and it was a combination of things,” he said. “I really liked the tradition of the school and the coach and the area. That’s what made me really choose the school.”
But adjusting to college life was difficult. It was the first time Ahmed had been away from home and his grades suffered.
"I struggled a little bit in the beginning,” Ahmed said. “I was really homesick and missed being at home, but I adjusted. I worked hard to get over that initial shock. I had to push myself really hard to go to the library and to study that first year.”
Religion really helped Ahmed stay grounded. A devout Muslim, he saw several similarities between Islam and running.
“Running and my religion are very similar,” Ahmed said. “They have guided me and I am who I am because of them. It’s difficult and teaches you dedication. Both gives you structure. It puts perspective into your life.”
It also gave him the discipline to do something that few runners do, compete in both the 5,000 and 10,000 successfully. Ahmed is one of only six runners who qualified for both races. He also has the chance to be the first Wisconsin runner since James Menon in 1995 to earn All-America honors in both races.
“I like running both, it gives you a focus,” Ahmed said. “I want to reach my goals and win and it motivates me.”