Deji Ogeyingbo wrote this piece on Gotytom Gebreslase and her family and the challenges of protecting her family in her country’s strife.
Gotytom Gebreslase started running for fun; now, she’s doing it to save her family.
In the last couple of decades, sports have been used as a tool to bring people together. Different cultures, tribes, and religions come together under one umbrella to compete and bring joy to billions of people all over the globe. For the most part, it had been successful. But like any device which has the ability to control the minds of a huge amount of people, there is the other extreme of the divide. The other end of the spectrum is what government and Politian use for their propaganda.
It’s the world we live in now. And like the proverbs go that when two elephants fight, it’s the grass that suffers. Most of the time, athletes are the ones that bear the brunt of these issues, and they just have to move on with their lives as if nothing happened. Still, these athletes manage to put up a show, and like in the case of Gotytom Gebreslase, win medals on the biggest stage in spite of the political tension going on in her country Ethiopia.
What a moment! Another gold for 🇪🇹🇪🇹 Congrats Goitom Gebreselase!! pic.twitter.com/caV5OMJNGZ
— 🍾 (@Zoldme) July 18, 2022
As a kid, Gebreslase had always nursed the ambition of running. She enjoyed listening to stories about Ethiopia’s running greats on the radio, and Gebreslase remembers seeing other children running at school and wanting to join them. So, when coaches from Mesfin Industrial, a nearby club, came to a school competition and asked her to join their team, Gebreslase leaped at the opportunity.
“I stayed on the track for a long time because I was getting good track results,” Gebreslase told womensrunning.com.
Since turning professional and starting to run for her country, Gebreslase has made it a habit to communicate with her family in the Northern part of Ethiopia. Her mum has always been the major reason she continued striving for greatness as she hoped to take them away from the improvised life that farming brings them.
Congratulations Ethiopia 🇪🇹once again!
What a moment for Ethiopians ! Goytom Gebreselase Bravo! pic.twitter.com/qZljvQhbO7
— Sabi ኢትዬጲያዊት💚💛❤ 🇪🇷 SHE/HER (@Sabi92409431) July 18, 2022
Growing up in the Tigray region, her family enjoyed listening to stories about Ethiopia’s running greats on the radio, and Gebreslase remembers seeing other children running at school and wanting to join them. It was her dream, and gradually, it began to come into fusion.
But after almost a decade of grinding it out with a couple of mixed results on the world stage, Gebreslase would not have the opportunity of sharing her biggest win with her family due to the long-standing internet and phone blackout in the country’s Tigray region that was implemented by the Ethiopian government amid fighting between government and Tigrayan forces.
Shortly after the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military offensive in the northern Tigray region and promised that the conflict would be resolved quickly. It didn’t happen. The fighting has left thousands dead, displaced more than 2 million people from their homes, fueled famine, and given rise to a wave of atrocities.
A year later, Gebreslase made her marathon debut in Berlin with the conflict and well-being of her family in mind. Training for it must have been grueling, but she still pushed on. In the race itself, she celebrated with a win in a time of 2:20:09, moving away from compatriot Hiwot Gebrekidan in the latter stages.
Gebreslase followed up that performance two months later with a big Personal Best of 1:05:36 at the Bahrain Night Half Marathon. All these happened while talking sparingly with her mother. Bigger things were to come this year.
The Ethiopian opened her season at the Tokyo Marathon, clocking 2:18:18 to finish third. The best was still to come. At the World Championships in Oregon, marked her championship debut at the World Athletics Championships Oregon22 with a personal best of 2:18:11 that bettered Paula Radcliffe’s mark of 2:20:57 at the 2005 Helsinki World Championships.
“The result I got in the world championships built my confidence,” she says. “It made me want to train more to get better results [and] it changed my thinking.”
Ethiopia’s 🇪🇹 #GoytomGebreselase takes🥇in a championship record time 2:18:11 as
Kenya’s 🇰🇪#Korir grabs🥈and #Salpeter, Kenyan born Israeli 🇮🇱 took🥉at the #WorldAthleticsChamps women’s marathon
East Africa reigns once again 🙌🏽@WorldAthletics#WCHOregon22 pic.twitter.com/HYFRGryvMh
— βia™ (@aserob_) July 18, 2022
While celebrating, Gebreslase came across a TV report featuring an interview with her mother. In the TV report, Gebreslase’s mother says she cried after watching her daughter’s post-race interview. She adds that the pair only communicate via recorded voice messages and that she hopes for peace in order to see her children again soon.
“When I saw that video, it really made me calm,” says Gebreslase, who viewed her mother as a role model growing up.
“When you see something like that, hearing them support me, that helps calm you because it’s encouraging – the fact that I saw them and didn’t know what kind of situation they were facing,” Gebreslase told cnn.com.http://www.cnn.com
Gebreslase rents a house in the Kotobe neighborhood of Addis Ababa with her sister, who has played an instrumental role in adjusting to the more strenuous demands of marathon life. Gebreslase raced at the New York City marathon a couple of weeks back as she finished third in 2:23:39.
It’s been a difficult last two years for Gebreslase, and despite the urge to quit, the unwavering support of her family has helped her persevere in these trying times. The results on the road proved that.
“When I started running, [my parents] didn’t discourage me; they
were encouraging me – especially my mom,” says Gebreslase. “She is very strong and loves sports. She was my mom and my coach at times, helping me get to this stage.”