Despite growing up in a country where distance running is revered, Avondale senior Kasashun Neselu had no interest in running as a youngster in Ethiopia. He watched the sport on television, but was never moved to give it a try.
That changed when he came to the United States, as a fifth grader, with his father and brother.
Neselu was introduced to the sport as a freshman at Avondale. He became curious after he ran cross country in a PE class and became friends with some distance runners.
That curiosity became a passion, and Neselu wanted to emulate the accomplishments of former Avondale runner Nasar Koko.
“It started out as just a fun thing I did with my friends,” Neselu said. “When I realized I was good at it, I wanted to become as good as him if not better. Now I have competitive goals, but it’s still fun.”
One reason it’s still fun for Neselu is because he has emerged as one of the top runners in the county. He won the first three weekly DeKalb County meets. Neselu’s best time is 17:28.24 on the rugged Shamrock Middle course to win the second county meet of the season on Sept. 10, bettering his time from a week before by about 11 seconds. He also won the Sept. 25 meet with a time of 17:30.04.
“I want to try to get a scholarship,” Neselu said. “I’ve started applying to colleges, and I want to go to Georgia Tech.”
Avondale does not compete in invitational meets, so Neselu is making a name for himself locally. But that may change if he does well at the region and state meets coming up later this fall.
“I’m not frustrated about it,” Neselu said. “It would be a good experience to be able to go.”
If he does make it to the state meet in Carrollton, it will be because of his drive and discipline. He is a member of the Avondale High School ROTC unit. Neselu is a wing commander in his fourth year as an ROTC member.
“I learned to be patient,” Neselu said. “I didn’t get good overnight. It’s about dedication and consistency. It’s been a gradual development, but the hard work pays off. It was hard when I first started, but once I got into it, it became a lifestyle.”
Neselu takes his sport seriously and trains six days a week. He runs 50 to 75 miles weekly on top of the running he does at Avondale’s cross country practice. And he watches what he eats – he hasn’t had a carbonated drink in more than a year and rarely eats sweets.
When Neselu isn’t running, he’s usually studying or honoring an ROTC commitment. Through the ROTC program, he has participated in the Empty Stocking Fund, blood drives and is a member of Avondale’s ROTC color guard at events around the county.
His grades plus his running ability should make him a good college scholarship prospect. In addition to a 3.9 grade-point average, Neselu takes AP calculus and history classes and is a Georgia Merit Scholar.
Neselu hopes to drop his time by at least a minute, if not into the high 15-minute range, by the end of the season. He missed the state meet last season after injuring his back and not running well in the region meet.
But this time he hopes will be a different story, Neselu said.
“To compete in state means a lot,” Neselu said. “What happened last year makes me work harder, and it motivates me to think that I could make it to state.”