After move from Ethiopia Ali discovers how to run

The sophomore has been one of the Gophers top five runners in each of his last five meets.

Sophomore Obsa Ali approaches the finish line of the Oz Memorial race at Les Bolstad Golf Course on Sept. 11, 2015.

Image by Maddy Fox

Sophomore Obsa Ali approaches the finish line of the Oz Memorial race at Les Bolstad Golf Course on Sept. 11, 2015.

by Tommy Jaakola

Obsa Ali didn’t have any intentions of becoming a runner until his freshman year in high school, when his track coach casually asked him if he could run two laps around the track without stopping. 
Ali did just that, joined cross country that fall and hasn’t looked back. Now, the Gophers sophomore is a consistent top five runner for the cross country team, and he has found running to be an extremely important part of his life. 
“Running has changed my life,” Ali said. “I don’t know how my life might have turned out if I hadn’t started running.” 
Before Ali found his way to cross country, he was an avid soccer player. Ali was born in Ethiopia and grew up playing the sport throughout his entire childhood, just like many of his friends and family.
“It was very simple there,” Ali said. “Whenever you weren’t at school or at home, you were playing soccer. Everyone went outside and played soccer, and it would repeat again the next day.”
Growing up, Ali didn’t see his mother for more than 10 years when she moved to America when he was just 2 years old. He stayed in touch with her by talking over the phone and with pictures. The pair was finally reunited when he moved to America at the age of 12. 
Halfway across the world in Minnesota, he was named all-conference in soccer his sophomore year at Richfield High School, but he never became the soccer star he and his friends in Ethiopia had dreamed of being one day. 
Ali joined the distance team in track and field his freshman year to stay in shape for soccer and joined cross country his sophomore year. 
By the end of his junior year, he was one of the best runners in the state.
“I went to the [section] meet really as an underdog. I really had no idea where I was at; I was running mediocre times,” Ali said. “And then I ran the fastest qualifying time at sections that year, and I won our sections out of nowhere, and I got second place at state.”
Following his success sophomore year, Ali realized running fast could get him more than just a first place trophy. He decided soccer wasn’t going to get him a scholarship, so he chose to forgo playing soccer his senior year in order to focus on running. 
Now, with his running scholarship at the University of Minnesota, Ali has taken full advantage of the opportunity running has given him.
“He did not redshirt his true freshman year, somewhat rare for our group,” head coach Steve Plasencia said. “Now, he’s training a lot more than he did in high school. We’re anxious to see where that takes him this year.”
Ali placed 26th at the 2014 Big Ten Championships, where he ran a personal best time of 24:15.5. He’ll likely continue to be a strong force for the Gophers alongside team leaders Adam Zutz and Aaron Bartnik.
Bartnik said he likes what he has seen so far in Ali in the two years they have been teammates.
“Obsa is a diligent, committed and hard working individual and is still very young,” Bartnik said. “We both think a top 10 Big Ten finish would be realistic for him this season.”
Ali has powered through the obstacles in his life, and he said he’s excited to see where running might take him next.      
“Running has had a huge impact on me,” Ali said. “I’ve met all these people [and] made all these connections.”