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[caption id="attachment_530" align="aligncenter" width="300"]10825728706_a8456ed0e0_b Mohamed Hussein '14 and cross-country coach Grant Gonzalez. (Photo: Glenn Minshall)[/caption]

Delivered at the Fall Athletics Banquet on Nov. 8, 2013

Good evening everyone,

I am a beneficiary of a great education at NMH, but more importantly I have learned through NMH athletics that I can control what is under my control. I had to quit soccer at my eighth grade year because I couldn’t control what was in my control. Exactly four years ago, my eighth grade year, I was having a serious conversation with my parents about my future in sports, especially with soccer. Up to my eighth grade, I got minimum grades to keep moving to the next grade and to keep my parents satisfied so that they wouldn’t have to interfere with my world, the world of soccer. After a boring and tiresome five hours of school, my day would start with playing soccer. I would play with my best friends until we could not see the ball anymore, it was so dark, and then it was time to go to bed.

The last month of my eighth grade year, the inevitable happened. This time I knew that minimum effort would not take me to high school but still I was in my soccer world, nonchalant about anything else. Exactly a month before taking the national eighth grade exam, a cumulative exam that tests sixth grade through eighth grade, my parents called me up to the living room to give me the ultimatum: “We don’t want you to bring shame to the family.” My parents knew the path that I was caring about nothing other than soccer would only bring shame on the family and that I was giving up before the fight, I was being a coward. “At least take your chance” My mom told me. I wrestled with the idea of giving up my world of soccer, a world that I trusted, a world that was familiar. Then my dad saw my stubbornness and asked, “Son, what benefit does soccer bring to your life?” I was faced with the shortcomings of soccer had that I never wanted to expose. The danger it brought to me and the constant worry that it gave to my parents.

You see, back home in Somaliland, on my team I was taught two things: don’t be soft, and never question the team’s actions -- rather, be the first one to carry them out. Not questioning meant that when we had fights with other teams, which were quite often, that I had to put my safety on the line. So in games where we lost or played against a rival team, a fight was the end result. We would fight in the final stages of the game and then there was always a non-verbal agreement that at night each team would equip themselves with weapons to prepare for a fight.

At the night of the fight, our captain will gather us in a secret place and we would each bring our knives or canes. The strategy would be to divide us into four groups and each group would come from a different direction into the other team’s neighborhood. To agitate the other team, we would throw rocks at their homes and then they would come out and fight us. In most of these fights, members from either team would get seriously injured on their hands or legs and the situation would go so out of control that cars filled with policemen would arrive at the fight and we would scatter. I have witnessed many times my teammates getting arrested for days and even for months. I came close many times but luckily I was never arrested.

In the eyes of my parents, the decision was quite simple and obvious: Quit soccer and study for national exams. This decision seems rational and compassionate but my parents saw it to be the only decision because of their background. My dad lost his father at the age of three so he started to work in a carpentry shop at the age of 12. He would go to work till noon and then go to school till evening but at the age of 18, he got married and had full ownership of a carpentry shop. So he stopped going to school in the middle of his senior year in high school. My mom was born in the small village that was far away from the city and that had no schools. She worked with her mom and looked after her family’s livestock. She came to the city in her adulthood years but she never got the chance for an education because it was a time of civil war between Somalia and Somaliland.

At last I agreed to my parent’s logic with my own realization that if I continued in this dangerous path then I wouldn’t only risk my education, but I would risk my life. For the next month, I said goodbye to my soccer world and everything that associated with it. I changed my circle of friends and started an uncertain new era of my life. I started studying extensively with a new group of friends and we would go to someone’s house and study more than eight hours every day for the eighth grade national exam. The exam came and I had many questions in mind, but I was confident about one thing that at least I took my chance. I remember the day my headmaster posted the results on a window of an office that was at the center of the school. I was nervous and hesitant to check out my score because I knew that an outcome might be that I had failed. I waited for everyone to leave, and when it was time to close the school, I sneaked in and saw my score. I had the fifth highest score in my school and more importantly, because of my score, I would be able to take the examination for the most prestigious high school in my country. A new world has opened up for me: academics.

I sought academics as my way out of the mob mentality. Now I studied more than ever to be among the top 50 students who score in the exam so that I could get in to top school in the country. Despite my effort I was not in the top 50 but at the day of my exam, I realized there was another newly founded school run by a Worcester native and taught by American and European teachers that would take another 50 students. Fortunately, I scored in the top 100 students and I got accepted to this newly founded school, Abaarso School. I was overjoyed with my accomplishment. I was going to a high school where the teachers only spoke English -- a language that was totally foreign to me -- and it was a boarding school so I would no longer be with my family. It seemed that I was getting deeper in to an ocean of uncertainty. I didn’t know what trajectory my life was taking. Fortunately, my parents were supportive and assured me that I was making the right decision. I left my family for boarding school and for the first few months I was overwhelmed with challenges and confusion. I barely spoke English so they had translators who spoke Somali, my native language, work with the teachers in the classroom and explain the lessons. Until I picked up a few sentences and words, I continually stared at my teachers. Academics were challenging. It was not my first time taking physics with a foreign teacher in foreign language. It wasn't the material, but rather the language barrier that posed the challenge. For the next three years, I consciously decided that if I want to succeed in school and chase my dream of getting a top education, I had to give up everything and just focus on academics. So for the next three years, I ruled out athletics in my life. I played soccer for fun on some weekends but I knew at the back of my head that sports would only take me astray from my ambitions and aspirations. At the end of my junior year, my headmaster made a visit to NMH and introduced to the admissions office to my school and inquired about the possibility of a student from his school applying to NMH. I applied to NMH and on March 10, 2012, I got accepted.

At the summer of that year, Grant Gonzalez, the head of the NMH boys' cross-country team, made a visit to Abaarso School. Prior to his arrival, I did a half-marathon for fun with very little training. After that race, I realized my running potential but with no coach and no running gear and training facility, I gave up on the idea. After Grant came, we started running together and talked to me about XC at NMH. There something that caught my eyes about running: how safe and peaceful it is. Grant’s arrival indicated how much he cared to know me and my school and it also showed how much NMH cared about educating students like me who didn’t have the privilege of great education.

When I arrived at NMH in September 2, 2012, I saw the role that athletics played in students’ NMH experience. NMH shattered my misconception that sports stood in the path of academics. Here at NMH students strive to excel at both academics and athletics. I tried out for Varsity XC and it was my first time playing an organized sport. I was particularly amazed by two of my teammates: Edwin and Christian Hidalgo. These two guys were injured for most if not all of the XC season last year but they would come every day and work out in the pool or on the bike just to start running again.  I therefore realized how much work they were putting to come back to run while I was injury-free and able to run. They definitely motivated me to work hard and take full advantage of the gift that I had. Because of Christian and Edwin’s example, I began by living the Steve Prefontaine quote, “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice a gift.” Furthermore, it was the first time that I felt safe in a sport. This time I knew that I didn’t have to worry about getting into fights with my opponents but rather I made friendships with my competitors knowing that the goal of competition was to “strive together” to reach new heights. In short, NMH XC redefined competition for me, no longer did I understood competition as competing against my component but now in my dictionary, competition meant, “striving together” with my team and my competitors. I learned in cross-country that it is not my competitor that I have to beat, but the limitations that your body tells your mind.

Grant always reminds us that "the effort that you put in matters not the place that you finish because a place or a time is just a mark." “Work on what is under your control” is the theme of cross-country and sports too. In XC working on what is under your control means, working on how much effort you put in, controlling how you respond to success, did you let greatness get in to your head or did you stay focused and motivated to push yourself to your new heights. What is under your control is your actions alone and only. If anything this season has taught me that you are in control of your reaction not anyone else’s action. As an athlete, I learn life lessons from events small or big that change my perception of XC. The Boston Marathon bombing tragedy taught me that running is not always peaceful and safe and that I can’t take these crucial aspects of XC for granted. Those innocent runners who were peacefully running some of them lost their lives while others got seriously injured and they won’t be able to be run. From this tragedy, I learned gratitude. I learned to look at the bigger picture of running. Don’t complain about how fast you could have run on that race but rather be grateful that your legs are intact and that you don’t have to worry about not running again.

In the most recent New York City Marathon, Meb Keflezighi, a US runner who ran 18 marathons including nine times in the New York City Marathon and the winner of 2009 New York City Marathon had a muscle calf injury coming into the race and then his injury caught up with him at the 19.3 miles and “his body couldn’t go one more step” so he had to stop but he chose to walk in honor of New York, Boston, and those lives who were lost in Boston tragedy. Meb couldn’t control his body to run because he couldn’t go that extra step but he could control to make to the finish line walking. I learned from this incident our intention to run is bigger than ourselves and that when we can’t take that extra step because our body is telling us to not do so then it is the things that are bigger than us that gives us the extra motivation to make to the finish line and it is at that moment we remember that it is not about me. Going forward as an NMH athlete, I would always find motivation from the lessons that I learned through XC. I will always be grateful and thankful of my health and safety. I will always strive to better control what is under my control.

I would like to thank Grant Gonzalez for coaching me to be a better person, more grateful and more humble. I would like to thank the NMH community for welcoming and accepting me into this safe new home.


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