Run for your life

  • By Larry Henry / Special to The Herald
  • Sunday, April 17, 2005 9:00pm
  • Sports

You’re in this country illegally.

And you’re scared.

You’re afraid if the authorities find out they’ll send you back home. And that’s the last place you want to go.

They put your father in prison, and you’re afraid that’s what they’d do to you. That or kill you.

Jennifer Buchanan / The Herald

Daniel Kore (left), an illegal immigrant who feared for his life if he returned home to Ethiopia, sought help from Steve Bertrand (right), his track coach at Cascade High School, who helped Kore gain asylum in this country.

Daniel Kore kept all this to himself his first two years of high school.

One misstep and he knew he could be back in Ethiopia.

He had to tell someone. Someone he could trust.

He went to his cross country coach at Cascade High School, Steve Bertrand.

“He was between a rock and a hard place,” Bertrand said. “When we found out about him was the end of his sophomore year. He came to us out of fear and of being sent home.

“And what does that mean? He couldn’t go home because they were exterminating people who were aligned with the previous government.”

Kore’s father was an air marshal. His job was to prevent highjackings of commercial flights.

When a new, repressive government took over, he went to prison for eight years.

Daniel was 5 at the time.

Eight years later, Daniel’s mother, fearing for her children’s lives, sent him and two of his siblings to the United States to live with an older sister in Sedro-Woolley. They eventually moved to Everett, where Daniel attended Everett High School his freshman year before transferring to Cascade.

It was there that he went out for the track team his sophomore year. An aspiring distance runner, Daniel was coached by Bertrand.

Daniel had never run before, though he comes from a country that has produced some of the world’s top distance runners. Growing up, he lived in a city where many of them trained. “I would see them running every day when I went to school,” he said.

He had no desire to run. His passion was basketball. “I was a soccer player/basketball player,” he said, “more into basketball.”

Even after he went out for track at Cascade, he often could be found in the gym playing basketball after practice. One day while the team was warming down after a track meet, Daniel was on a nearby court shooting hoops.

It was track, though, not basketball, that might have saved his life.

“If I wasn’t running, I wouldn’t be here,” he said one day as he sat in the library at Everett Community College where he is completing his sophomore year. “I wouldn’t be going to school, I wouldn’t have a job, I would still be illegal if it wasn’t for Mr. Bertrand.”

Daniel was here on a visa. And he’d let it expire.

“I exceeded my stay,” he said.

He was an illegal. “If you get caught, you’re scared you’ll be sent back,” he said. “You can’t work, you can’t go to school.”

“You’re a man without a country,” is how Bertrand put it.

The last thing you want to do is get in trouble.

“I had to behave,” Daniel said. Which shouldn’t have been a problem because they say he’s a good kid, likable, hard-working. Oh, there had been an incident at Silver Lake one summer night after his freshman year. He was out there with some buddies from Everett High School and they started shaking the pop machine. Well, the cops came and everyone took off running. Including Daniel.

And he used what foot speed he had to get away.

He wasn’t as lucky the next time.

“All my life I never get in a fight,” he said.

Until he got to Cascade. And then one day some kid insulted him, told him to go back to Africa.

“That’s when I hit him,” Daniel said.

The campus police officer, Herm Atkins, responded.

The long and short of it: The other kid got suspended, nothing happened to Daniel.

“Herm Atkins was my track coach,” Daniel said. “He knew what kind of student I was. Ask any of my teachers. But he pushed me to the limit. I could not take it.”

Nor could he take living with his secret. And so that’s when he decided to confide in Bertrand.

“He was the only true person who could understand me,” Daniel said.

Bertrand listened with a sympathetic ear.

“Here’s a kid, he can’t go home, he can’t get a job, he can’t go into the military, he can’t pursue college, he has nothing to look forward to,” Bertrand said. “At the same time, he’s the nicest kid, and he’s saying, ‘It must be God’s will that these things are happening.’ “

Bertrand started looking for someone who could help. “I was trying to pursue an attorney, but people didn’t want to take the case,” he said. “Or, yeah, they’d take the case but there’d be exorbitant attorney fees.

“Finally, it was brought to my attention that there were people who worked on asylum cases. We finally got somewhere, but it took one-and-a-half years. When push came to shove, he finally got his asylum.”

Now he could get a job. He could go to college. He had something to look forward to.

And the kid who had never run before he got to Cascade, who by his own admission was “the worst runner ever,” began to show some talent. “He has come a very long way,” Bertrand said. “When he first started, he was very awkward. He was like a little fawn that hasn’t quite found its legs yet.”

The little fawn ran a 6:40 mile as a sophomore. By his senior year, he was one of the top runners in the Western Conference with a time in the low 4:30s. And he captured Most Outstanding Student/Athlete for Cascade as a senior.

Daniel turned out for cross country at EvCC last year, but didn’t feel as if he improved that much because there were no other runners in the program to push him in workouts. “They weren’t as dedicated as he was,” coach Sue Grigsby said. “He’d say, ‘I’m going to go to Cascade and take off on a 10-mile run.’ He has a lot of room to grow.”

Daniel decided not to compete this year so that when he transferred to a four-year school he would have three years of eligibility remaining. It was a good decision, as it turned out, because he’s had shin splints.

Still, it hasn’t stopped him from helping out with the running program at Cascade. “I feel I have a duty to run with them and push them,” he said. “I’m trying to give back.”

Bertrand said Daniel calls and apologizes on the days he can’t make it to practice. “Our kids,” he said, “really look up to him.”

On the day of this interview, Daniel wanted to run with the Bruins, but time was running short. It was 3 p.m. and in an hour he had to be at work. He’s a salesman in the electronics department at Target. All of this after a day of classes.

He’s a full-time student, carrying 20 credits with a GPA of 3.5, as well as holding down a full-time job. And, living in Federal Way, he has a long drive each day. “It’s been hard,” the 19-year-old said, “but I’m feeling better about it.”

Daniel will attend and run for Western Washington University in the fall and Bertrand said a financial aid package is in place. Daniel’s goal is to become a lawyer.

His running goal is a bit loftier. He wants to run the 10,000 meters in the 2012 Summer Olympics, hopefully in New York City.

“I want to be great,” he said.

Daniel, you already are.

Talk to us

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