About two weeks ago I read about a Somali Olympian who had competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Samia Yusuf Omar.
Al-Jazeera talks about Samia’s training in Mogadishu, her courage, her spirit. The article mentions her nerves at the competition and the fact that the shirt she wore to race was donated by a Sudanese sprinter and that she finished a full 8 seconds after the second-to-last person in her heat.
I interviewed Samia in 2008 in Djibouti for a Running Times article.
A BBC article printed just last week talks about her death. After competing in Beijing, Samia wanted more training, more freedom, a coach. She trekked from Ethiopia to Sudan, through Libya, then caught a migrant boat from Libya to Italy and either the boat sank or she drowned while trying to swim to ropes dangled by the Italian police. The facts are unclear but the result remains.
I read this story the morning we left Minnesota and it shook me. I’ve read about drownings like this before, I’ve read horrible stories about the region before.
But I knew this girl.
Somalia’s 2012 female Olympian has been receiving death threats for exposing herself to the world, though she ran in loose, long clothing in London.
The rocks thrown at me when I run, the tsstsstss (Djiboutian version of catcalls), and the absurd comments are nothing compared to what these girls face in order to run. And ultimately, in order to live, which they don’t always succeed at.
I love running and though sometimes I hate running in Djibouti and sometimes I even hate living in Djibouti, stories like Samia’s motivate me to press on, motivate me to leave comfortable Minnesota and comfortable Kenya (where I wrote this post).