Thursday, May 10, 2012

Runner profile: Woman runs from life of degradation - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 

Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

May 6, 2012 2:53 pm

Shetaye Bekele loves to run. She always has.
For a long time, though, running was the last thing on her mind.
Just two years ago, Bekele was rescued from a brothel in Ethiopia, where she had spent the previous year and a half as a sex slave.
Now she is running again, and competing as an elite runner with goals of one day making the Olympics.
"I never thought I would be in this place, from where I was," she said Friday through a translator. "My hope was dead and I really felt in darkness. But now, when I see myself here, I am very excited, very happy."
Bekele, 19, started running as a child growing up in Ethiopia. Her village was far away from her school, and she had to walk every day. Soon, she started running to school. She doesn't remember how long it was distance-wise, but said it took around two hours each way.
Eventually, Bekele started running for her school's team. At that point, she planned to continue her education and running career, with the goal of one day making the Olympics.
When her parents died, though, Bekele was forced to care for her younger siblings. She went to Addis Ababa, the country's capital, looking for work. Like many poor African girls, she fell into the underworld of sex slavery and human trafficking.
During her time in "darkness," as she described it, she thought about running only occasionally, and even then it was usually wondering if her Olympic dream was dead.
"Sometimes, I did think [about running], but I was thinking maybe there is hope, maybe there is not," she said.
In 2010, Bekele heard about the International Crisis Aid (ICA) organization and, with its help, escaped to a safe house in Ethiopia.
"I couldn't believe that God made it for me," she said. "It was like a dream. A couple of days, I was sleeping and woke up [thinking], 'Is this really happening to me?'"
Bekele also was able to run again. She started to train while still at the safe house, and ran in her first race in Ethiopia about a year later. She finished 14th out of 450 in an 8-kilometer race.
In February, she ran a half-marathon in India, finishing eighth out of 40,000 runners. Her time of 1:19:59 would have placed eighth among women a year ago in the Pittsburgh Half-Marathon.
When she runs today, Bekele also will be running for a bigger cause. She wants to raise awareness and, hopefully, money to help girls suffering in sex slavery who are not as fortunate as she is.
On her first trip to the United States this week, she is trying to speak out for the girls who cannot speak for themselves.
"I really now have another goal: To help other girls who are in the darkness," she said. "That way I really run for them. I can feel them when I am running for them."
Bekele still harbors goals of one day racing in the Olympics, but her running this weekend is almost a miracle in itself. Despite all that she has been through, Bekele still talks animatedly and smiles when discussing her running career.
When asked if she had a goal for her time today, Bekele flashed a smile and made her answer clear.
"I want to be the first," she said. "The winner."
Sam Werner: or on Twitter @SWernerPG.
First Published May 6, 2012 2:51 pm

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