TUMWATER — Tumwater High School’s Dawit Mengistu is months from completing high school, yet he has rarely competed with – or against – kids his own age.
“I always wonder what would happen if I was 18 (and running) against these guys, but that’s not to be,” said Mengistu, who will compete in Saturday’s 2A District IV championships at Battle Ground’s Lewisville Park.
“And that’s OK. Age is not an excuse.”
Mengistu is a high school senior, but he just turned 16 – he entered kindergarten early, then skipped third grade – on Oct. 19, four days before his fifth-place finish at the 2A Evergreen Conference cross-country championships at Pioneer Park helped the Thunderbirds win the boys team title.
Mengistu is a student-athlete on the move. This spring, he’ll earn his Associate of Arts degree from South Puget Sound Community College giving him a two-year head start on college in the fall to go with his high school diploma.
“It’s a lot of hard work,” he said.
His full day of classes at SPSCC leaves him just enough time to attend practices with the T-Birds.
Obtaining a driver’s license isn’t on his to-do list since, “I can just run places,” he said.
A former junior-varsity soccer player turned long-distance runner, Mengistu’s involvement in cross country dates back just a year. Tumwater coach Rich Brown said although Mengistu was “brand new to the sport” when he met him in the spring of 2012, he was eager to learn.
“The transition time was pretty quick,” Brown said. “He’s fallen in love with the sport within one year. The progress we’ve seen and his enthusiasm for the sport has
Mengistu, born in the United States, is of Ethiopian descent. His parents, Teferi and Almaz, immigrated to the U.S. in their teens from Ethiopia, a country that produces some of the world’s elite distance runners. He traveled to Ethiopia with his family three years ago, giving him perspective and an appreciation for his family’s culture.
“I really embrace it,” Mengistu said. “I’m very happy of my heritage.”
His time of 16 minutes, 48.52 seconds at last week’s EvCo championships was a personal-best on a 3.1-mile (5,000-meter) course, and was the first time he had broken the 17-minute barrier. While this weekend’s district meet will be his 15th career race at 5,000 meters, his performances have been noticed by college programs – including Temple and Idaho State – that have contacted Mengistu.
“I’m so thankful I found running,” said Mengistu, who is looking to earn his second trip to the state cross-country championships in Pasco Nov. 9.
“It’s my favorite thing to do.”
Meg Wochnick: 360-754-5473 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/ south-sound-sports-blog @megwochnick