In Ethiopia, Demssew Tsega Abebe was an elite professional runner and a well-known figure. He won 30 marathons, including the French Reims marathon several years ago in a personal best of two hours, nine minutes.

By Allison Klein (The Washington Post) |

Demssew Tsega Abebe was a famous marathon runner in Ethiopia and was expected to be on his country’s Olympic team. But his career was cut short when he was tortured for peacefully protesting his government’s policies. His heels and feet were so severely lashed he could not run for more than a year.

He fled to the Washington area in 2016 and he has been trying to bring his wife and two children to the United States ever since, in part to get medical care for his 5-year-old son, Dagmawi, who cannot speak. Abebe has never met his 2-year-old daughter, Soliyana, as his wife was pregnant with her when he fled.

Last week, Demssew Tsega Abebe learned his family had won a humanitarian immigration petition to join him. Fittingly, they are scheduled to arrive early Valentine’s Day morning at Dulles International Airport. He will hold his daughter for the first time.

“I miss my family, my children,” Demssew said, his voice breaking with emotion. “My son, he knows he waits a long time, but I am coming back to him.”

He said Valentine’s Day isn’t much of a holiday in Ethiopia, but he said he is proud to be reuniting with his family on a day that celebrates love, in a nation where he is free to express himself.

“I am so happy, I thank God,” said Demssew, 29, who lives in Silver Spring.

The past week has been a scramble for Demssew, who has been sleeping on a friend’s couch, as he searched for an apartment and other trappings of home life for his family. He works in food service at St. Elizabeths Hospital and recently left a second job as a clerk at a 7-Eleven.

In Ethiopia, Demssew Tsega Abebe was an elite professional runner and a well-known figure. He won 30 marathons, including the French Reims marathon several years ago in a personal best of two hours, nine minutes. He ran the Ras Al Khaimah half-marathon in the United Arab Emirates in an astounding hour and one minute.

Continue reading this story at The Washington Post
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