By BOB PADECKY
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
On March 8 walking down a corridor by herself was Sadia Ibrahim, a senior and middle distance runner at Santa Rosa High School. She was carrying a 3.5 grade-point average for the quarter. That’s important to remember.
Santa Rosa principal Brad Coscarelli approached Ibrahim.
“Where are you supposed to be?” Coscarelli asked.
“I don’t have to be anywhere,” Ibrahim responded. “I have a free period.”
“Come with me,” Coscarelli commanded.
This was when Ibrahim first recalled getting nervous.
“You know how we say that bad grades can hurt an athlete getting into college?” said Doug Courtemarche, Santa Rosa’s track coach who suddenly appeared out of nowhere. “Well, we have some concern here. We need to talk.”
Courtemarche had that look of a law enforcement official leading someone on a perp walk to the courthouse.
“Doug had his Doug Face on,” Ibrahim said.
Soon Courtemarche, Coscarelli and assistant principal Alan Nealley were walking with Ibrahim over to Room 7 of the Science Building.
“I was really confused,” Ibrahim said. She should have been. Ibrahim is one of those model citizens, the kind of person who would find a wallet with $100 in it and give it back to its owner.
The four of them arrived at Room 7. Ibrahim opened the door and saw her father, her stepmother, a table, someone with a camera, track coach Carrie Joseph, a lot of balloons and a few people that had to come from somewhere. She paused when her eyes finally enveloped the entire scene.
“I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go in,” she said. “It was scary.”
In short order, gold and blue balloons were fetched. A gold-and-blue blanket was displayed. Gold and blue cupcakes were placed on the table — in front of a piece of paper. It was a National Letter of Intent. Ibrahim had picked UCLA over Cal to run track but had forgotten about the decision. Life happened. Life distracted her. School. Running. All of it intervened. Courtemarche and his crew wanted to make sure she was still distracted when she stepped into Room 7.
“I think we did a good job,” Courtemarche said.
A smile spread. Ibrahim signed the NLI. Pictures were taken. The amount of athletic scholarship is dependent on Ibrahim’s track performance this spring. Not that Ibrahim did or would complain. From where Ibrahim has come from, not knowing the percentage of scholarship is worth maybe a giggle to her.
Sadia, 18, hasn’t been home in six years. Hasn’t seen her mother since she left.
A native of Ghana, Ibrahim left her homeland for a better education in the United States. Her mother, Alia Wahab, remained in Ghana. Ibrahim lived with her father, Rahim, who has been here since 1990. Her sister, Ummu, tried living in the U.S. After three years at Santa Rosa High, Ummu returned to Ghana.
“Ummu was always homesick,” Ibrahim, 18, said. “She never adjusted well to the U.S. culture. I think this was the reason she went back to Ghana.”
Ibrahim and Alia talk once a week. They frequently exchange photos. After she graduates this summer from high school and before she enters UCLA, Ibrahim will fly back to Ghana to see her mother and sister.
“It was never goodbye (forever),” Ibrahim said about leaving Ghana and her mother for good. She was going to America to be educated. Running? In Ghana she kind of liked basketball. Kind of. Track? Huh?
“Running for distance doesn’t seem like fun,” that’s what Ibrahim told Courtemarche when the coach asked her to come out for cross country at Santa Rosa High. Ibrahim ran track at Santa Rosa Middle School but it was more like a physical education class. Still, Courtemarche saw something. He wanted to see more.
Santa Rosa’s team captain at the time, Caitlin Young, pleaded with Ibrahim. Once a week, Courtemarche estimated, he would call the freshman and beg and plead. Months went by.
“Doug, I’m not feeling it,” Ibrahim would say over and over.
Finally she felt it.
“Doug wore her down,” Joseph said.
Joseph and Courtemarche thought Ibrahim was a cross country runner. Until they saw her sprint 800 meters into a run. It was as if a gift had just been handed to them, the gift of being effortless, smooth, graceful at a difficult athletic exercise. It’s a beautiful thing, Joseph said, to watch Ibrahim accelerate in the 800.
“I hear ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahhs’ in the stands when Sadia runs,” Joseph said. “People are awestruck.”
In April 2012, Ibrahim ran the sixth-fastest 800 in the state as a junior, a 2:12:48. Running with a stress fracture in her right foot, she finished third in the 800 at NCS. With the stress fracture worsening, Ibrahim didn’t make it out of the first round at state. The injury certainly didn’t discourage Cal or UCLA. The fracture now healed, Ibrahim finds herself on the cusp of some very lofty possibilities. She will be coached at UCLA by four-time USA Olympian Johnny Gray, one of the best 800 runners in American history.
She wants to be a Pac-12 champion, an NCAA champion and represent either Ghana or the United States in the 2016 Summer Games in Brazil.
“When I run,” she said, “I can block everything out. When I run I get away from everything else. No teenage drama.”
When she runs, there is no florid teenage conversation, no missing mom, no longing for her homeland 8,000 miles away.
“Running is so comfortable,” Ibrahim said, “that it almost feels like I’m in bed.”
Wrap your mind around that sentence. For most of us, we need the bed after we run hard. Sadia? Why, the girl is just waking up. Admit your envy.
For more North Bay sports go to Bob Padecky’s blog. You can reach Staff Columnist Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.