High School Heroes: American Fork teen running past tragedies

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AMERICAN FORK -- An American Fork teenager has seen unimaginable tragedies in his short life. But instead of sitting on the sidelines, Ashenafe Richardson picked himself up and put on a pair of running shoes.

These days, 18-year-old Nafe, as he is called, runs far from his homeland -- a place with very bad memories.

"I remember all of it," he says.

A lot of it he wishes he didn't remember. Nafe was born in Ethiopia. His mother died when he was 6 years old, and two years later he witnessed the death of his brother.

"My dad always [drank]. He came home one night drunk, and he lost money gambling -- he didn't remember what he did with it, so he blamed it on my brother," Nafe says. "He beat my brother until he killed him with a big stone thing."

Overwhelmed with guilt, his father hanged himself the next day in front of Nafe and his younger sister. For the next two years, Nafe stopped going to school.

"When I was in Africa, I drinked and smoked -- it's, like, OK there. So, I was doing that and I was like, 'I don't want to be like my father.' So, I want to change my life around and have a better life than he did," Nafe says.

He found a better life in Utah when he was adopted by Greg and Holly Richardson of Pleasant Grove.

He arrived when he was 10 years old, not knowing how to read or write. But since the Richardsons have nearly two dozen adopted children, Nafe had plenty of help.

"I think it's because I have a lot of siblings, and they help me a lot," Nafe says.

"I think if anybody had a reason to use his background as a crutch to say 'no, I really can't do a lot. I really have this hard background,' he would be one of those kids that could rely on that and he; and he, in fact, has not," Holly Richardson says. "He has moved forward, past some of the really difficult stuff."

Nafe's now gone from the difficult stuff to the easy stuff: He's one of the state's top cross country runners in American Fork. This, after trying out for the team just one year ago.

"When he started running, he didn't quite understand the importance of being consistent in practice," says American Fork cross country Coach Timo Mostert. "And when he learned that, that's when he really started blooming as a runner."

"Running helped me a lot in my life. It taught me a lesson to work hard and not give up and to do well," Nafe says.

That has become the hallmark of Nafe's life. He says he wants to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after he graduates from high school. He hopes he's called to serve back in Ethiopia.

"My destiny is probably to come here and learn and get a career so I can go back and help people there," Nafe says. "That's why I keep going forward in life, is that I want to give people the same chance I had."

During the recent state cross country championships, Nafe ran the best time of his entire career, placing fourth -- despite the fact he was nearly knocked over by some spectators who got in the way.

E-mail: kaiken@ksl.com

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