When Buzunesh Deba left Ethiopia for the United States, she moved to Kingsbridge, because she had friends in the neighborhood. Deba’s husband joined her and they decided to make the area their permanent home, partly because she was training for the marathon in Van Cortlandt Park.
Six years later, and a month after missing out on being the first New Yorker to win the New York City marathon by just four seconds, Deba cannot believe how the entire borough has embraced her.
“The reception we’ve received here is something I didn’t expect,” she said. “But it inspires me to run harder, and stay focused.”
Deba was honored with a reception at Hostos Community College on Friday, December 3, where she was credited for representing the Bronx on the national stage.
“It’s a nice place for running,” the 24-year-old said. “It’s a nice place for everything. And there are other Ethiopian athletes here.”
She works out at a Planet Fitness on West 225th Street. And when not training, Deba and her husband Worku Beyi are frequent visitors to the Bronx Zoo, and enjoy strolls up and down Fordham Road.
Beyi, who is also his wife’s coach, says they also like to support young runners at the Van Cortlandt Park track.
“When we’re out running in the summertime, and kids are running, we cheer them on,” Beyi said. “We run on the track and try to push them.”
The couple is preparing to spend three months in Albuquerque, NM this winter, to train for the Boston Marathon, which takes place in April. After Boston, they will return to their one-bedroom Bronx apartment.
Julio Pabon, president of south Bronx-based Latino Sports Ventures helped Hostos organize the event. He said Deba could be a example for all Bronxites.
“Ms. Buzunesh Deba is an elite world-class runner and she lives in the Bronx, it was a no-brainer to honor her in a borough that still has a negative image and that is presently suffering from some of the worst health statistics in the country,” he said.
Hostos president Felix Matos Rodriguez agreed Deba could be an example, especially to the students at his school. About 7 percent of Hostos’ 7,000 students were born in Africa, like Deba.
“We wanted to send a message to everyone in the Bronx and in New York that Hostos is a welcoming place for people from Africa,” he said.
Matos Rodriguez added that Deba’s sport is a particularly strong metaphor for academics.
“She runs marathons, she’s in it for the long haul, not the short term,” he said. “It that doesn’t apply to education, I don’t know what does.”
Bill Weisbrod can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (718) 742-3394. Follow him on Twitter @bweisbrod