by Ward Mullens, Published January 21, 2010
YPSILANTI — Eastern Michigan University freshmen cross country runners Moise Frisch and Terefe Ejigu learned how to run early in life. It wasn’t their desire to compete that drove each of them - it was survival.
Frisch, 20, spent most of his childhood in an orphanage in impoverished Haiti.
“Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. There is a lot of social and political corruption,” said Frisch. “My mother had me when she was very young and could not take care of me, so she took me to the orphanage.”
Frisch lived there for about nine years until the orphanage decided to convert to all girls and send the boys into the streets.
Fortunately for Frisch and his younger brother, a woman from Toledo who was in Haiti at the time heard about the orphanage’s plan and decided to adopt the two.
Ejigu’s path began in war-torn Ethiopia.
“We have many conflicts in Ethiopia and people leave to try and find a better life,” said Ejigu, 21.
Ejigu’s family fled Ethiopia for a refugee camp in Kenya. Ejigu, 13 at the time, and part of his family then made their way to New Zealand.
Much like the courses they run, the paths of Frisch and Ejigu’s lives have taken some interesting turns.
Both Frisch and Ejigu stumbled into running.
“Where I was going to high school every freshman has to compete in a 3,000 meter race,” said Ejigu. He won that race and a coach took notice, inviting Ejigu to try out for the running team.
Frisch had played soccer in Haiti, but didn’t discover running until he started going to gym class at his new high school in Toledo.
“I went to run in gym class and a teacher asked if I had thought about running track,” Frisch said. “My mom had to explain what (track) was. She said it was running around in a circle.”
That was all that it took for both runners to find their strides and get noticed.
Frisch’s best times at Whitmer High School in Toledo were 1:51.82 in the 800 meters and 4:13.84 in the 1600 meters. Ejigu represented New Zealand in the World Youth Championships in Morocco and was a semi-finalist.
John Goodridge, EMU’s cross country coach, heard about Ejigu from a colleague at Harvard. Frisch, who was courted by Indiana, Notre Dame and Princeton, had heard about Goodridge and EMU’s ‘great tradition’ in running.
Goodridge said he has seen the potential in both runners and that while it is still early, they both have handled one of the hardest parts well – the adjustment to life in a foreign country and going to school.
"Both Moise and Terefe have had a wonderful transition to EMU from both an athletic and academic perspective. I have enjoyed the beginning of our coach-athlete relationship and am very excited about their future contributions to Eastern,” said Goodridge.
It seemed only natural that Frisch and Ejigu would become roommates. While from countries at opposite ends of the world, the two share many similarities – from what they miss back home (their families and the food) to their running goals of Olympic medals.
They also agree that the biggest adjustment, besides the food, has been the weather.
“Seeing snow for the first time was very different,” said Frisch. “I had wondered how snow happened and I woke up one day and there it was all over the ground.”
“My friends are on summer break in New Zealand right now,” said Ejigu as he pointed to the snow coming down outside the Bowen Field House track.
Another interest the two share is music.
“He plays the guitar and I play the bongos,” said Terefe.
About the only major thing on which the two disagree is who is faster.
“He runs 4.11 in the mile and I am 4:13. He is 1.53 in the 800 and I am 1.51,” Frisch said with a laugh, referring to his and Terefe’s times.
The only head-to-head race that matters to these two now is who gets to the shower in their dorm room first.
“I got there first (yesterday),” Frisch said with smile. “Terefe thinks I spend too much time in the shower.”
While the path of their respective running careers is still developing, their respective courses in life are more clear.
“I just want to help others and go back to Haiti and help in whatever way I can,” said Frisch, who is majoring in exercise science. “I had nothing and now I can say that I have almost everything. It is most overwhelming.”
“I want to work for a government agency or humanitarian effort that helps people,” said Ejigu, who is majoring in international affairs.
No matter where they place on the cross country course, both Frisch and Ejigu are proving the old axiom, “It’s not how you start the race, but how you finish.”