When he runs around the track at Tempe McClintock High, there is an extra bounce, and Abdi Aden sees a finish line with his mother smiling, a place he wants to eventually get to before his last race.
“I just want to finish high school, go to college, see my mom,” he said.
Aden said he left Africa as a refugee from Kenya in 2011, living with an aunt, believing his mom was dead.
With his father out of his life after he was born, Aden said he had lost track of his mom when he was 3 after their house burned down and they lost everything. There was civil unrest in Kenya, and the assumption was that she had died, trying to flee from soldiers through the forest.
But last year, Aden said he got a surprise call. It was his mom. He broke down.
“My mom came looking for me last year,” Aden said. “She moved to where I came from. She started asking people if they had seen me. That’s how she found me.”
Aden said they had become separated after losing their home. He said his mom told him that she wanted him to live with his aunt in Dadaab, Kenya, at a refugee camp.
“My mom didn’t want to go to the refugee areas, so she made me go with my aunt,” Aden said. “She felt it would be safer for me.”
He said they connect on the phone now, sometimes through Skype as they plan to someday reunite.
It pushes Aden through school, on the track and at work.
He is among the state’s top 15 distances runners in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter races this track season, sometimes going to a meet after working a 12-hour weekend shift at a fast-food restaurant from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m.
He said he sends a portion of his paycheck to his mom in Somalia.
“This is a young man that has to balance quite a bit,” McClintock track coach Jeff Dodge said. “Many days during the week, he either has to miss practice or leave practice early to make it to work.”
Aden started sports by just playing soccer at McClintock. That evolved into track last year for the first time, and last fall, he competed in cross country.
Dodge, who focuses on the distance runners, first noticed Aden running after a soccer ball during a practice one day and asked him to come out for track last year.
“I said, ‘Yeah, I like running,’ ” Aden said.
Last fall, in his first cross-country season, Aden was among the leaders with about 800 meters to go in the state championships before he hit a wall.
“I started walking and just fell,” he said. “I don’t know what happened. My body just gave out. I had water and ate well the night before.”
On the beat: More high school coverage from Richard Obert
Aden, 19, is thankful to have his coach and teammates pushing him every day at practice and in meets.
“I see myself as a good runner, who can be in the top 10 in each race I’m in,” he said.
Dodge is impressed by Aden’s perseverance to make something of himself in life.
“His shins are always bothering him because he’s standing so much at work,” Dodge said. “Sports is going to help him get through. I think he sees this, but he has to work. He could walk on at a Division I college to run. He has the talent. He could also end up with a scholarship.”
He thinks about doing construction later in life, but is just happy to be on the right track and connecting again with his mom.
“It’s a blessing,” he said.
Photos: Arizona’s best high school track programs
This is a conflicting weekend for the state’s elite athletes. Do they stay home and compete in the Sun Angel Classic at Arizona State? Or do they head to California for the West’s most prestigious high school track meet, the Arcadia Invitational?
Here is where some of the state’s best are headed Saturday:
AT SUN ANGEL
Alexis Center, Phoenix South Mountain, 100 dash, ranked 2nd in state, 11.91 seconds; Alena Ellsworth, Gilbert Highland, 400, 1st, 55.69; Arniesha Mitchell, Chandler, 100 hurdles (1st, 14.77), 300 hurdles (4th, 44.87).
Derrick Monroe, Yuma Cibola, long jump, ranked tied for 1st, 23-4; Michael Williams, Surprise Shadow Ridge, high jump, tied for 1st, 6-10; Connor Stevens, Chandler Hamilton, pole vault, 1st, 16-0; William Partridge, Sierra Vista Buena, shot put, 1st, 57-6 3/4; DeAndre Knight, Avondale Agua Fria, 110 high hurdles, 1st, 13.94.
Dani Jones, Phoenix Desert Vista, 1,600, 1st, 4:44.46; Vanessa Davis, Desert Vista, pole vault, tied 1st, 12-6; Jasmine Stauffacher-Gray, Phoenix North Canyon, 400 (2nd, 55.70), 300 hurdles (1st, 43.85); Autumn Smith, Phoenix Mountain Pointe, 300 hurdles (2nd, 44.32), 100 hurdles (3rd, 14.83); Chynna Simmons, Mountain Pointe, triple jump, 1st, 37-10; Hannah Bartz, Mesa Mountain View, long jump, 3rd, 18-1/2; Mega Reniewicki, Phoenix Arcadia, 3,200, 3rd, 10:58.13; Ali Kallner, Scottsdale Chaparral, 3,200, 1st, 10:53.92.
Isaiah Oliver, Phoenix Brophy Prep, 110 high hurdles (2nd, 14.03), 300 hurdles (1st, 36.79); Paul Lucas, Mountain Pointe, 100 (2nd, 10.68), 200 (1st, 21.58), 400 (3rd, 48.15); Jeff Miller, Page, 800, 2nd, 1:56.85; Reed Bussey, Queen Creek, high jump, 4th, 6-9; Carlos Villarreal, Rio Rico, 1,600 (1st, 4:11.26), 3,200 (1st, 8:59.09).