Our Stories: Nahom Solomon
Georgia Tech men's cross country athlete motivated by the struggle of his refugee parents
Nahom Solomon - (as told to Justin Fedich)
"Our Stories" is a RamblinWreck.com feature that provides first-person stories from current Georgia Tech student-athletes on their journey through academics, competition and life once their athletic careers are over. These young men and women represent the ideals of what it means to be a STUDENT-athlete at Georgia Tech. These are their stories.
A 5,000-meter race is the ultimate challenge of mental and physical toughness, a feat that tests your willingness to suffer. No matter how tired I am during a race, no matter how much I want to quit, I think of the suffering my parents went through when they were young and I power through the pain I’m feeling in the moment.
My name is Nahom Solomon, and I am a 21-year-old junior cross country and track runner at Georgia Tech. I am the son of Samuel Gebreyesus and Letensie Tesfamicael, both of whom were refugees from the East African country Eritrea during the 30-year Eritrean War of Independence that ended in 1991. My parents met in America, and I became the first born of their four children.
I’m reminded all too often that when my parents were children, they walked five kilometers to school and five kilometers back from school every day with a pile of textbooks in hand, which helps me put the races I run in perspective. My parents have told me stories of the unspeakable things they’ve been through, including when Ethiopian soldiers roamed through my mother’s village searching through the possessions in her home as she, then a young child, feared for her life. Their experiences keep me grounded, and teach me that no matter how bad things get, I won’t complain or worry, because my parents have endured much worse.
Family has been a major motivational force in everything I do, especially when it comes to running. Growing up in a household with four children, competition has been at the center of everything we do. As the oldest, I’ve always felt a responsibility to be the best, to carve a path that hopefully my younger siblings — Noah, Nardos and Nathan — can follow. Up until high school, I thought that path would be in soccer.
My freshman year at Shiloh High School in Snellville, I wasn’t planning on running track. The only reason I started running competitively was because I got tricked into doing so. I was told I was going to soccer conditioning, but two weeks before the season I realized I’d been at track conditioning all along.
By the time I learned I had been duped, I was already enjoying being a part of the track team and decided to drop soccer and transition to track. During my four years at Shiloh, I broke the 1,500 meter, 3,200 meter and 5,000 meter records, one of which still stands today. After that, I wasn’t all that mad at being tricked into going to track conditioning.
My first three years of high school, I didn’t take running all that seriously. My senior year, my coach gave me the push I needed to make me put my focus into being the best distance runner I could be. I went from running 10 miles a week to 30, and my times improved because of it. Due to my success at track and my good grades — I was the salutatorian of my graduating class — I earned an athletic scholarship to one of the few schools I knew I had wanted to attend since childhood: Georgia Tech.
When I got to Georgia Tech, I officially decided to major in computer engineering, although I knew what I wanted to study as young as 9 years old. As a child, I would break things, often as a result of being overly aggressive with delicate objects. One day, I accidentally smashed my parents’ central processing unit and tried frantically to put it back together before my parents found out. I failed and was punished, but it was worth it because in trying to put it back together, I realized my calling as a computer engineer.
Becoming a scholarship athlete at my dream school was a happy moment for me, but it was also a wake-up call. Now I had to prove my worth and show that I am good enough to be a runner at Georgia Tech. Throughout high school, I learned to love the sport of running because it’s an individual sport, and when you fail, there’s often no one else to blame but yourself.
My coaches at Georgia Tech, notably cross country head coach and track distance coach Alan Drosky and cross country assistant coach Becky Megesi, have taught me to embrace the team aspect of the sport and to give everything I have not just for myself, but for all my teammates. They’ve also taught me to believe in myself.
I’ve always prided myself on my confidence, but during the ACC Championships my freshman year, I wasn’t sure how I’d perform. Coach Megesi reassured me that I shouldn’t worry about how I’ll finish; as long as I do my best, that’s all I can do. It worked, and my confidence in running hasn’t wavered since.
While it was Coach Megesi who helped me to believe in my abilities, it’s my parents who keep me going each day. My senior year of high school, as I was about to compete in my final high school track meet, my father told me something I won’t soon forget.
“No matter what happens, no matter what man you turn into, I will always be proud of you,” he said.
Since that conversation, I have made it a goal to always have some way to make my parents proud of me. I have my parents, younger siblings and teammates relying on me to do my best at whatever I put my mind to, whether it be putting together a computer or finishing a 5,000-meter race. I don’t look at the challenges that lie before me as a burden, but rather an opportunity.
My parents have taught me to put everything in perspective. As long as I continue to realize the pain and suffering I feel during a race is only temporary, I still have many more personal bests to achieve.