In light of what Kidus Begashaw did in 2020, it’s only appropriate he goes to a school with a meteor as a mascot.
The senior at Aurora’s Lotus School For Excellence completed nothing short of a meteoric rise Oct. 17 when he won the Class 2A state cross country championship, a mere six months after picking up competitive running.
The converted basketball and soccer player crossed the finish line at Norris Penrose Events Center in 16 minutes, 17.8 seconds, nearly 30 seconds before his closest competition, to win his school’s first state title in anything.
“I came last year and I saw (Lyons’) Isaac Roberts (the 2019 state champion) and I was like ‘I want to win, I want to win,’” said Begashaw, who ran faster than Roberts’ winning time of 16:19.60.
“Every single day from that point forward, I wanted it,” he added. “I found a good coach, trained with that coach, worked really hard and became a state champion.”
Lotus, a small Aurora charter school with less than 1,000 students in grades K-12, had its profile raised significantly by what Begashaw accomplished during the most challenging prep cross country season ever in Colorado.
Sarah Baysden and Patrick Rice, who share coaching duties in cross country — the only sport offered by Lotus this fall with volleyball and boys soccer moved to the spring by the Colorado High School Activities Association because of the pandemic — found themselves challenged to coach a small group of boys and girls from all ends of the spectrum of experience and fitness, with Begashaw at the top end of the latter.
“We saw him at soccer practice last year and he came over and wanted to just run with us,” Baysden recalled. “Watching him for the first time, it was just an amazing running form. You notice it immediately. He just looks effortless.”
The soccer to distance running crossover is one that is fairly common for athletes — Baysden said she did it herself in high school — due to similar fitness and stamina demands, but it doesn’t often lead to stardom.
It did for former Grandview star Brie Oakley, the Gatorade Athlete of the Year in cross country in 2016-17, who made a similar switch and it also worked out on a grand scale for Begashaw.
Begashaw played in the midfield where he was “the last guy you expected to get tired, I was always moving around and telling everybody to go, go go,” and he also played basketball (averaging 10.3 points per game last season for Lotus), but he was inspired to try running.
He also believes his Ethiopian heritage — he was born in the United States but said his parents have frequently taken him back to Ethiopia — also gives him an advantage.
“I have natural endurance, it’s in my genes,” he said after draping himself in an Ethiopian flag after receiving his championship medal.
Last spring’s track season got wiped out by the pandemic, so Begashaw didn’t get a chance to compete until this fall. He worked over the summer with coach Joey Bender and the Great Strides Track Club — which also included former 5A state qualifier Grant Bradley and Abdi Abade of Overland — and came in prepared for the fall.
He also said he got stretching advice and tips from two-time Olympic qualifier Aboukar Adani, who is a close friend of his family.
Baysden and Rice managed to give Begashaw the training he needed, often marking off distances at nearby Exposition Park for him to complete, but they really weren’t able to get him a lot of high-level competition due to the pandemic, which canceled a variety of meets.
Begashaw did get to compete in the Desert Twilight meet in Arizona in early October, the only race he didn’t win all season.
He went into the state meet with the top time in 2A, but not knowing much about his competition, he pushed himself to the end of the state race. Begashaw ended up in the medical tent after he collapsed just over the finish line.
“We knew that winning was the goal with Kidus and with a shorter season, we had to fine tune things quicker than in any other year,” Baysden said. “That’s what we did. Things went very well despite COVID. We had perfect training and perfect taper and he stuck to the plan very well.”
Begashaw — who all of a sudden has generated interest from a variety of college programs and could get even more with a strong track season in the spring — hopes that his victory will be the start of something bigger at his school.
The Meteors placed sixth as a boys team at last season’s 2A state meet and had three qualifiers this time.
Junior Nabil Hassan finished 31st in the boys race as well for Lotus, while senior Layla Haji represented the school in the 2A girls race and finished 34th.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports