"He'll start running, and everyone is like 'Oh my god, who is this guy,'" said Ed Haywood, president of Club Northwest, a runners' club where Kokebe trains.
Kokebe, 30, of Lynnwood, won the Seattle Rock'n'Roll Marathon this year. He finished at 2 hours, 31 minutes and 47 seconds, with the closest competitor following about three minutes behind.
He also won the Seattle Marathon in 2010, just a month after moving to the United States from Ethiopia.
Kokebe doesn't like to talk about his accomplishments.
"He's a very quiet, kind and sincere person," Haywood said. "He does not have a big ego, he's just happy for his fellow runners when they are doing well."
Running is more than a sport for Kokebe. It's a part of life he brought with him to America.
Ethiopians are famous for being strong and agile athletes, and running is deeply embedded in the culture, Kokebe said.
He gets up before 5 almost every morning and runs about 12 miles, 20 if he's training for a marathon.
He runs everyday, sometimes twice.
Kokebe was a bodybuilder when he decided to try running about 10 years ago. He is about 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighs 132 pounds. His emotions show quickly through his shy smile and lively eyes.
"Running is addiction for me," he said in a recent interview. "If I don't do it, I get depressed."
Kokebe won a Green Card lottery -- an ongoing federal program designed to promote diversity. Each year, thousands of people from all over the world become legal U.S. residents that way.
Moving to America was not an easy decision for Kokebe.
He left behind his mother, brothers and sisters. He misses his family and talks to them on the phone often. (Skype and Facebook are banned in Ethiopia).
He also gave up his career as a professional runner representing Ethiopia at various races.
Kokebe grew up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital and largest city. He made a living as an athlete and sometimes did electrical work using skills he learned in the two years he studied electrical engineering.
He didn't speak much English when he moved to the United States but learned quickly after enrolling in a program at the Edmonds Community College.
An Ethiopian family who already were living in Lynnwood helped him get settled. He met other Ethiopians in the community and started going to an Ethiopian Orthodox church. Even so, Kokebe felt lonely here at first.
He found a community when he joined Club Northwest.
People in the club saw that he was trying to fit in and stepped up to help, Haywood said. Kokebe doesn't drive a car, so fellow runners give him rides to training sessions. Haywood told him about a job opening at the gym where his wife works.
Kokebe is thankful for his friends -- club members, his running partner, his boss and his EdCC teacher.
He'd like to become a coach and train other runners someday. Family members back in Ethiopia are telling him to quit running and start studying.
But for now, Kokebe's goal is to finish a marathon in two hours and 10 minutes.
Katya Yefimova: 425-339-3452; email@example.com
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