Ethiopian-born runner Terefe Ejigu arrived in Wellington eight years ago as a child refugee with nothing not even a word of English and had no idea he could run.
He has proved a very fast learner.
On Monday, he leaves for the United States to take up a prestigious athletics scholarship at East Michigan University in Detroit a step toward his goal of representing New Zealand at the Olympics.
"It is a dream come true for me," said the top middle-distance runner, who turns 21 next month.
Introduced to running by Wellington College coach Alan Coulston, he broke the national junior 5000m record, with a time of 14min 43.50s, and has represented New Zealand at several international athletics competitions.
But he needed all his grit and determination to keep going after twice failing the strict English language tests to get into an American university.
Undaunted, he enrolled at Victoria University, majoring in development studies.
His grades from the last 18 months were good enough to impress the American selectors.
At East Michigan, he plans to study international relations a subject close to his heart.
He was 13 when he arrived in New Zealand with his two older sisters to be reunited with their mother, Mulu, whom they had not seen in seven years.
She had fled war-torn Ethiopia with her husband, seeking asylum for the family, leaving her children in the care of their grandparents.
Tragically, her husband was murdered, leaving her alone in a refugee camp in Kenya. After settling in New Zealand, she was able to send for her children.
Her son sees the scholarship as more than his own achievement.
"I am doing this for the youth from refugee backgrounds, who are trying to make a life in a different culture, and for other runners who are very talented but aren't able to get the same opportunity.
"I didn't get this opportunity by myself, but had help from people who believed in me, my parents, my school and friends. I am doing it for them too."
And he still needs a little help from his friends.
While his scholarship covers his fees and accommodation, he needs money for travel and living expenses.
Documentary maker Anna Cottrell, who has been following the Terefe Ejigu story since he was at high school and ran a fundraising auction for him last night, described him as "a wonderful young man and a credit to both his countries".
- The Dominion Post
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