Tachlowini Gabriyesos departed Eritrea at the age of 12 and trekked over the desert to reach Israel. He is now running marathons to spread a message of hope and perseverance to other refugees.
Gabriyesos, who turns 25 in July, finished 16th in the marathon at the 2020 Olympics and carried the flag for the Refugee Olympic Team at the opening ceremony in Tokyo.
Gabriyesos participated in the Belgrade Marathon as part of a United Nations refugee agency team on Sunday. In slightly over an hour, Gabriyesos finished in the top ten.
Running in Belgrade was also symbolic. The city is the capital of Serbia, a country in Europe’s southeastern Balkan Peninsula that serves as a land route for refugees and migrants trying to reach Western Europe.
Many who are among the thousands of people traversing the route come from Eritrea, like Gabriyesos, facing perils and challenges along the way. Gabriyesos’s own journey back in 2010 lasted for months and was marked by hardship.
— Becoming a refugee
Born in a remote village in Eritrea, Gabriyesos won’t even talk about the horrors he had witnessed while he lived in his home country, which was plagued by war, violence and repression. But it was enough to send him away from his parents at such a young age.
Gabriyesos claims he decided to escape one afternoon while his family was gone. A 13-year-old companion walked along, and the two of them simply set off toward what they hoped would be a brighter future somewhere secure.
Gabriyesos has an aunt in Israel and wanted to visit. He traveled to Ethiopia first, then Sudan, Egypt, and ultimately Israel. He had to sleep on the ground, walk for kilometers, and live in refugee camps.
“We went through the jungle, but this was no longer that scary as it had been when we were very small,” recalled Gabriyesos, who spoke through an interpreter. “We had already seen much worse.”
Becoming an athlete
When he finally reached Israel, Gabriyesos was first transferred to a refugee camp there, and later started attending school. There, he told his teachers he could run and they provided equipment and training.
“I had been fond of running even before I left (Eritrea),” he said. “I got a coach, who is my coach now as well. He is like a father to me and a man who is part of my life.”
From that moment on, running became Gabriyesos’ life. “When I started … he (coach) told me to run. And I ran and ran and he didn’t tell me to stop,” he said.
As a young talent, Gabriyesos earned an International Olympic Committee Refugee Athlete Scholarship and a chance to compete as a refugee as part of a team of athletes who are unable to represent their countries because of their status.
— Tokyo 2020 games
Gabriyesos was eligible to run at Tokyo 2020 after finishing the Agmon Hahula Marathon in Israel in 2 hours, 10 minutes, 55 seconds, to fulfill his dream of competing at an Olympics.
Gabriyesos finished 16th in Tokyo with a time of 2:14:02, surprising many with his success. His “next goal” is to compete at next year’s Paris Olympics.
Though the future looks much brighter now than back in 2010, Gabriyesos says his immediate hope is to receive Israeli citizenship before making any concrete plans.
“I have many dreams, many plans about the future,” he said. “What I can tell you now is that I would love to have many children.”