Abdi’s World: The Black Cactus on Life, Running, and Fun by Abdi Abdirahman and Myles Schrag with a foreword by Mo Farah
ISBN-10: 1733188789 (paperback)
ISBN-13: 9781733188784 (paperback)
Release Date: August 16, 2021
Publisher: Soulstice Publishing, LLC
Genre: Nonfiction | Memoir | Sports Biographies | Running & Jogging
Abdi’s World is a quirky place where the only American distance athlete to qualify for five Olympics shares the stories that shaped his enduring love of running and his laid-back approach to life. Abdi Abdirahman arrived in Tucson, Arizona, as a teenager when his family escaped civil war in their home country of Somalia. How the “Black Cactus,” as he is affectionately known, stumbled upon a career as one of the world’s most durable and beloved track and road racers of the 21st century is a story of resilience, commitment, and respect for friends and competitors alike—told here in a guide that is part life lessons, part training tips, part autobiography, and all Abdi. He has traveled the globe and shared his joie de vivre at every stop, showing a magician’s ability to balance work and play that anyone young or old, in or out of running, could learn from to live a more meaningful life. Enter Abdi’s World to join him on his insightful journey—and see what happens when you meet his stride.
Read an excerpt:
Chapter 3Representing America . . . Second Time’s a Charm
Have you ever been to Seville, Spain?
Neither have I.
I had plans to be there in August 1999, but I didn’t get to go—and I had only myself to blame.
So much was happening to me so fast that year. I was finishing my second year of classes at the University of Arizona and my final year of collegiate eligibility on the track. On the heels of the NCAAs came the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. I was running the 10,000m there in my first post-collegiate race. Though my fitness was still good, I had no idea what to expect in terms of my performance or how a big meet like this would be conducted.
Among those who would be competing—the very best professional distance runners in the country—I recognized plenty of names from the Pac-10 Conference. The top three in each event would qualify for the IAAF World Track and Field Championships, which would be held in Seville. Representing the United States at the Worlds and the Olympics was the best opportunity for these guys to make their money. They weren’t going to show me any mercy.
I felt strong and played it smart in my event. From the start, I and the rest of the field deferred to Alan Culpepper, the favorite. He took charge and we let him. But I hung close and managed to take third place in 28:28.26, six seconds behind Culpepper and four seconds behind runner-up Brad Hauser, one of the Stanford twins I had run against many times over the past two years. In an instant I had achieved something I didn’t think possible—competing at a world-class competition as an American.
Soon, reality replaced my excitement. Paperwork, man. Take care of the details. That’s my hard-earned advice. When you make a national team, the USA Track & Field officials spring into action. Seville was less than two months away even as we crossed the finish line. USATF makes sure you have everything in order so you can make the international trip—passport, visa, fingerprints, shots, a lot of stuff I had never given any thought to. When they said to send them my passport so they could process my application for the trip, I sent them the only document I had: my green card. I didn’t think anything more about it until they called me a few days later and said, “Abdi, we need your passport.” A green card shows you’re in the United States legally, but it doesn’t make you a citizen.
I hadn’t been out of the United States since I arrived in 1993 through a program for Somali refugees. I’d been running and going to school for the past six years. My parents had always taken care of life’s details. They gained citizenship while I was in college, so I assumed that meant I was a U.S. citizen too. What I discovered was that my two brothers and four sisters, all under age 18, received automatic citizenship when my parents did. But I was an adult by then; I had to apply on my own. The clock to Seville was ticking down, and time wasn’t in my favor. I tried to fast-track citizenship, and there are mechanisms for doing that. But I couldn’t get it done soon enough.
When Culpepper and Hauser were running around the track at Seville’s Estadio Olímpico, I was watching it on TV in Tucson. While I was frustrated with myself and understood how I had made the mistake, I also felt like I had let down Meb Keflezighi, my UCLA friend who placed fourth at nationals and would have earned the third spot had I not been there. Meb didn’t have a qualifying time that met the standard required to go to Worlds. By the time I got this all sorted out, he didn’t have time to run a race that might have gotten him a qualifying mark. I’m a laid-back guy and don’t mind making fun of myself. I let things go pretty quickly . . . grudges, regrets, mistakes. But more than 20 years later, this is still a little embarrassing because it wasn’t fair to Meb.
Surely I’m the only athlete who has missed being on a national team because he didn’t know he wasn’t a citizen. Since then, I’ve been proud to represent the United States at the Olympics and the World Championships in track and cross country 13 times. But I can’t count this one.
If anything, this incident reminds me how naïve I was back then. I didn’t have big ambitions of being a runner; I had no big plans at all. Not getting the opportunity to be on the track in Seville in 1999 was an eye-opener. It made me realize I needed to take care of the details if I wanted to run at this level. The Olympic Trials were less than a year away, and I really wanted to wear a USA jersey. I barely remembered Somalia, but in America I had found a place where I could feel at home.
It was time to make it official.
As it turns out, if you allow enough time, the process of becoming an American isn’t so difficult. After passing the citizenship interview and exam, I was ready. I became a U.S. citizen on January 28, 2000, just under a month after I “officially” turned 23 years old. Like many refugees who arrive at a border without proof of birth, I was assigned a January 1 birthdate by immigration officials when I entered the United States. My actual birthdate is March 21, 1977, according to my mom, but you won’t see that anywhere else but here.
In just a few weeks, I would compete for a spot on the U.S. team that would go to the IAAF World Cross Country Championships. My family had moved to Seattle, Washington, while I was in college, so Coach Murray joined me for a simple naturalization ceremony at the Pima County Courthouse in Tucson.
When you become naturalized as an American citizen, you stand in a strange sort of limbo. You are asked to support and defend the U.S. Constitution and the laws of the United States against its enemies. You give up allegiance to any other nation. I had no problem committing to that and taking the oath of allegiance. Also on that day, the emcee names each of the former countries of the new citizens. When I heard “Somalia,” I stood up to acknowledge that was my old country. It’s a funny place to stand. I felt like I had been practicing becoming an American for the past six-plus years. Because of my incredibly rewarding college experience—which was still happening, since I would be taking a few more classes to complete my degree—I was comfortable saying I wanted to be a permanent part of American society. I felt American.
It was humbling and thrilling—I could feel a transition happening in real time. But as with my early days at U of A, where I felt increasingly accepted and open to all that was going on around me, it didn’t change how I saw others. I didn’t feel better than non–U.S. citizens I knew, just like I didn’t feel better than other students at Arizona. I didn’t feel like I was turning my back on Somalia, either. I was just stepping into who I wanted to be: an American. Likewise, I didn’t feel better about myself when I beat other guys in races during my college career, and I didn’t feel worse about myself when I lost to them. In all these situations, if you compare yourself to others and try to take on their journeys, you lose sight of where you want to go.
Excerpt from Abdi’s World by Abdi Abdirahman and Myles Schrag. Copyright 2021 © by Abdi Abdirahman and Myles Schrag. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.
Meet the Author
Abdi is an American long-distance runner and a five-time Olympian competing for the United States in the marathon in the upcoming Summer Olympics (July).
Born in Hargeisa, Somalia, Abdirahman graduated from Tucson High School in 1995 and attended Pima Community College before transferring to the University of Arizona for his junior and senior years. At Arizona, Abdirahman was named the 1998 Pacific-10 Conference Cross Country Male
Athlete of the Year. He finished second at the 1998 NCAA Cross Country Championships.
He launched his Olympic career when he competed in the 10,000 meters at the 2000 Summer Olympics. Abdirahman has competed in three Summer Olympics since and is the first American distance runner ever to make five Olympic teams.
At the 2020 United States Olympic Trials in Atlanta, Abdi finished 3rd in the marathon with a time of 2:10:03, securing his place on a fifth Olympic team, and, at 43, becoming the oldest American runner ever to make the Olympic team.
This excerpt and virtual book tour brought to you by PR By The Book