Inspired By The Past, Izaiah Steury Beckons A Strong Future


* Izaiah Steury (top) has blossomed into a national-caliber runner in 2020

Photo Credit: Jacob Musselman

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It's hard to know when dreams first start.

Do we know know these things consciously, or do they form and mobilize as we chase after the things we love? There are always reasons for why we push for our goals, but for Izaiah Steury, one of country's top runners in 2020, it was because he saw someone just like him, achieving things he didn't know were possible. 

The Angola (IN) High School junior first started learning about Futsum Zienasellassie three years ago, as an eighth-grader in Indiana. Steury had been adopted just four years prior, into a family that had lived in Angola, Indiana, a town which sat on the northeastern-most border of the state. 

Few people looked like him when he first moved to the United States. 

But as a middle schooler, as he begun to get involved in activities and began to run, he was told about Zienasellassie, the former Team XC Nationals champion and two-time Foot Locker Nationals runner-up who had dominated at NAU and had become a professional runner.

Maybe that's when his dreams first blossomed.

And what a realization it must have been. 


Past, Present And Future

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Just a few years laterthe 18-year-old Steury has developed into one of the nation's top runners -- he's currently ranked No. 8 on the MileSplit50 -- and as a high-school junior could, much like Zienasellassie, compete for a state title as early as this season.

"Nothing is guaranteed," Steury said recently. "I'm not the only one who will have a chance to qualify. But I know I have to work 10 times harder to try and get it."

But looking back, Steury's path to Indiana is just as important as where he stands today. 

He has a loving family and a new hometown in the United States, and with that he's also welcomed many new things, including faith in the church -- he was recently baptized -- and a powerful community around him. He says he's constantly inspired by everyone.

But at the same time, he also hasn't forgotten about his family back in Ethiopia, either. He recently connected with his sister on Facebook, has FaceTimed with her husband, and within the past two years has revisted his old home.

"Finding my identity here in the United States was a little hard a first," he said. "I felt like I was different and it felt like I wasn't a part of their family. It's hard knowing you're the only one who looks like you. 

"But I realized as I got older that there's nothing wrong with that. You have to love who you are and be proud of where you came from." 

Steury definitely is proud of his heritage. But he's also drawn in by the inspirations who forged paths before him. 

Like the Eritrean-born Zienasellassie, who emigrated to Indiana as a young child, too, only to develop into one of the best distance runners in Indiana history and among the best high school distance athletes of all-time. 


Photo Credit: Jacob Musselman

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Steury often thinks about how his life could follow that same road. 

"All those great runners who were before me," Steury said, "I've just been trying to keep up. If they ran 15 minutes as a sophomore, I've always told myself, 'I want to run faster as a sophomore.' Just seeming them has inspired me. I look up to Futsum so much." 

While Steury has clearly made huge statements this fall, running the ninth-fastest 5K time in the country at 14:51.10 and racking up six straight wins in the Indiana, he's no new commodity, either. 


A Promising Start

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The signs have been there for the past few seasons. 

As a sophomore, Steury was 14th-overall at the Foot Locker Midwest Regional, missing out on national qualification by just four places. He was 25th at the Team XC Midwest Region and was seventh at state. 

Two years earlier, there was even more success. As a freshman, he won both the Foot Locker Midwest and Team XC Midwest freshman races, and finished 38th at state. He was one of 16 first-year runners to qualify, and he was the highest-finisher. 

"Moving past regionals and semi-state as a freshman, I knew if I kept working at it," he said. 

Over the last two years, Steury has been forming his identity in running, building an engine that would ultimately become tough to beat. 

But in August, a transformative moment finally came. 

Steury ran the fifth-fastest 3,200m in America for the abbreviated outdoor season, hitting 8:57.17 on the clock at the Music City Distance Carnival. That mark became the seventh-fastest in Indiana history, but more importantly, it was eight seconds faster than Zienasellassie's sophomore mark. 

"It was rewarding," he said. "I've been putting in the hard work and putting in a lot of mileage, up to 70 miles over the quarantine." 

Steury also claimed times of 1:56.28 in the 800m, 3:58.08 in the 1,500m, 4:14.72 in the mile. All four performances are now school records at Angola. 

But there is one slight hiccup.

He'll only get one more season to go for national outdoor records in 2020. For many children who are adopted into American families from third-world countries, the transition can often be a difficult one. While Steury learned English in just six months, he was placed behind in school so that he could properly develop at an even pace. 

"But I realized as I got older that there's nothing wrong with that. You have to love who you are and be proud of where you came from."

Ultimately, that decision impact him from an athletic standpoint: He will be older than the age cut-off by the time he's a senior in high school, marking him ineligible for his final season -- much like the situation of Weini Kelati in 2016.


Photo Credit: Jacob Musselman

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A Strong Future

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And so that's left Steury feeling as if every moment will matter. 

As such, he's treated this season just like that.

From his first race of the season, at the Huntington North Invitational -- where he won in 15:22.80 -- to his state-leading mark at the Marion Invitational, he's brought his 'A' game everytime. That's include wins over talented foes like Travis Hickner (Noblesville), Lucas Guerra (Highland) and Krishna Thirunavukkarasu (Brebeuf Jesuit Prep), among others.

But bigger races remain and larger competition nears from athletes like Kole Mathison (Carmel), Will Jefferson (Whiteland Community) and Reese Kilbarger Stumpff (Columbus North).

Steury knows wins won't be guaranteed, and that at any given point he can lose. 

But he also remains uplifted by all the things in his life that have brought him to this moment: His new family, his community, his family back home and inspirations like Zienasellassie.

"At the end of the day, the first person who crosses the line is a champion. It's on my mind." 

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Contact MileSplit editor Cory Mull at cory.mull@flosports.tv or follow him on Twitter @bycorymull