Interview with Tariku Ashenafi: 'I was raised in an orphanage in Ethiopia'

Carolina Forest senior Tariku Ashenafi talks about his trip to the United States from Ethiopia and playing two sports for the Panthers.

scrunners: What made you decide to come to the United States?
ashenafi: It was the decision of my parents.

scrunners: How is South Carolina different from Africa for you?
ashenafi: S.C. is very different from Africa. S.C. is a nice place to live and the people are wonderful to be around.

scrunners: Please explain your trip to South Carolina.
ashenafi: First, my family moved to Phoenix, Ariz. where my father was a math professor. When he was offered a post in the math department at Coastal Carolina University, we moved to Conway.

scrunners: When did you take this trip?
ashenafi: We arrived in the U.S. in 2005. My parents were already here. I lived in Phoenix for six months before moving to S.C. So, South Carolina feels like my home.

scrunners: How and when did you meet your family that adopted you?
ashenafi: I was raised in an orphanage in Ethiopia. I met my parents when I was seven and I lived with them during the summer months before returning to the orphanage. I was fully adopted when I was fifteen.

scrunners: How do you balance playing soccer and track and field?
ashenafi: I don’t think about it. It’s just something I enjoy doing. Last week I ran three races at the region meet and then I played a varsity soccer match and scored the winning goal. I love both sports so I don’t get tired.

scrunners: What made you decide to play each sport?
ashenafi: A friend of mine saw me running first in a soccer match and he asked me to try out for the cross-country team. Later, my cross-country coach asked me to run track. Running is very natural to me. I like being with my friends and helping the school.

scrunners: African runners are strong in national events, what does this mean to be you be a runner along with them?
ashenafi: Truthfully, I don’t know too many African runners. I did read about Kenenisa Bekele and was excited about him being so good because he is Ethiopian too.

scrunners: Do you watch running events on television?
ashenafi: I watched the Olympics this year, and I liked watching that. I thought Usain Bolt was cocky.

scrunners: What kind of goals have you had for this season?
ashenafi: I always plan to win and I like to try to break records. However, breaking a record is usually surprising to me because I am just running my normal race. I don’t feel as if I am doing anything special.

scrunners: What do you see yourself achieving this weekend at the qualifier for state?
ashenafi: I just want to run as fast as I can.

scrunners: How have you and your teammates related over the season?
ashenafi: I have fun with my teammates. I depend on them and they depend on me.

scrunners: What has been your biggest challenge in the sport and life?
ashenafi: There have been so many challenges that it is hard to name them all. Mastering English has been a very difficult one for me though.

scrunners: What kind of future goals do you have in life and athletics?
ashenafi: I would love to be a professional soccer player, although I intend to keep running track. I would also like to be an interpreter, or perhaps work in a university.

scrunners: Have you ever been injured? Please explain.
ashenafi: I sprained my ankle once, that’s it.

scrunners: How do you stay motivated during this time?
ashenafi: I wrapped it up and kept playing. It was not too difficult.

scrunners: Do you have any pre-meet traditions?
ashenafi: We don’t do anything exciting.

scrunners: Do you see yourself competing in the sport in the future?
ashenafi: Yes. I really like running.

scrunners: Are you planning to compete at the college level?
ashenafi: Yes. I would like to run in college.

scrunners: Do you plan on continuing your season over this coming summer?
ashenafi: I will probably be doing some personal training.

scrunners: What do you look for in a coach and what do you expect a coach to look for you?
ashenafi: I like a coach I can trust, one who can guide me and who is dependable. My coach can expect me to be committed and be honest. I am a straight-shooter. I also really go out of my way to play hard for a coach who has helped me.

scrunners: Do you see yourself coming back in the future to help with the sport in South Carolina?
ashenafi: I would like to do some coaching and helping younger athletes in the future.

scrunners: What do you recommend to young athletes to achieve their best in the sport?
ashenafi: Eat well, rest and stay away from the things that can hold you back. Beyond that, everyone has his/her unique talent to develop.

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Photographs by Sandy Lawson of