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Abdi Salam Ali

Abdi arrived in Switzerland at the age of 14. He is an exceptional young runner with outstanding athletic and interpersonal skills. He quickly found his feet in Switzerland – winning both the hearts of his fellow citizens and top prizes at local and international races. His phenomenal achievements in the under-20 category have now earned him sponsorship as a Generali Running Talent. We are proud to be able to finance young athletes with a migrant background as part of this programme. We want to encourage them to achieve their sporting dreams and goals.

"I’d tell them to take advantage of the great opportunity Generali offers with the THSN Refugee Team. And I’d tell them to keep going. That’s important in sport and also when it comes to integration. It’s not easy at first. But if you keep going, if you keep going to training, it gets easier."

Abdi Salam Ali – short bio

 

Abdi Salam Ali was born on 1 February 2002 in Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. He grew up with seven brothers and sisters. At the age of 14, he fled Somalia and arrived in Switzerland on 7 November 2016. As an unaccompanied minor, he was looked after by the Zurich asylum agency (AOZ). He quickly learned German and attended the state secondary school in Zollikon in the summer of 2017, followed by the Uster school of sports and art. He then began an apprenticeship in operations management. Abdi had always enjoyed playing football but in 2018 he discovered a new passion: running – and he never looked back. Following in the footsteps of Tadesse Abraham, he joined the LC Uster athletics club and won a series of races in the under-18 and under-20 categories. Abdi has been a member of the THSN Refugee Team since the end of 2020, where he also acts as a co-trainer, fulfilling his drive to share the knowledge he himself has gained with his peers. His successful integration in Switzerland, his athletic performance and his positive, determined attitude make him an example to the other runners. He now dreams of going professional.

 

Despite being so young, Abdi hasn’t let success go to his head. He is extremely disciplined and has stayed down-to-earth and focussed on his goals. Abdi is wiser than his years and has achieved a huge amount already.

 

Athletic track record

 

Championship races

  • 1st place in the 10km at the under-20 Swiss championships in Lugano on 28 August 2021
  • 1st place in the 5,000m at the under-20 Swiss championships in Nottwil on 4 September 2021
  • 6th place in the 10,000m at the Elite Swiss championships in Uster on 4 June 2021

 

Best times

  • 10km in 30:09:40 at Lugano in 2021
  • 10,000m in 30:18:62 at Uster Running in 2021
  • 5,000m in 14:36:17 at Regensdorf in 2021
  • 3,000m in 8:28:03 at CITIUS Meeting in Bern in 2021

 

Abdi, when did you decide you wanted to become a professional runner?

 

I played a lot of football when I was a kid. When I came to Switzerland I wanted to keep it going, so I joined FC Erlenbach. In April 2018, the centre for unaccompanied minors in Zollikon suggested I take part in the Zurich Cityrun – and I came first without too much effort. That’s how I discovered that I liked running. I was introduced to my current trainer, Marco Rancan, and I joined the Uster athletics club. I attended more and more training sessions and took part in lots of races, and always got good times. After I won the 10km at the Swiss championships in Uster in March 2019, I decided that running was more than just a hobby for me. I’ve been training hard ever since and dreaming of becoming a professional runner. At the same time, I’m also training to be an operations manager – and I’m looking forward to being financially independent soon.

 

Tell us a little about your story and how you came to Switzerland

 

I was born and grew up in Mogadishu in Somalia. My dad owned a little shop and also worked as a teacher. My mum looked after the eight of us. When I was 14, I fled the country. My parents helped me, but I went on my own. My journey took me across Ethiopia, the Sudan and finally to Libya, where I crossed the Mediterranean in a makeshift boat. The whole trip took almost a year. It was really tough. Today, I look back and sometimes I can hardly believe I actually did it. I arrived in Switzerland on 7 November 2016. I learned German very quickly – I knew it would be key to integrating here. As a result, I was able to attend state school from 2017. The Amoroso family, whom I met through the Centre for Unaccompanied Minors, gave me a lot of support, both with administrative hurdles and at school.

 

I started doing athletics in 2018 and did well, which meant I was able to join a school of sports and art in 2019. After that, I did a year of preparatory professional training at the Viventa school in Zurich. I then began an apprenticeship in operations management at the Herrenbergli retirement and care home in Zurich. My employer allows me the time I need to pursue high-level athletic training, and I’m really grateful to them for that. I’ve been living in a flatshare in Wiedikon in Zurich since I was 18 and I spend all my free time on the sports field.

 

How did you become a Generali Running Talent?

 

My trainer at LC Uster, Marco Rancan, is also a trainer for the THSN Refugee Team in Zurich. When he suggested that I join the team and that I help as a trainer alongside him, I was delighted. He’s taught me so much. In turn, I’m doing the same, sharing what I know with the young people who have arrived here as refugees and helping them integrate through sport.

Generali then asked if I wanted to become a Generali Running Talent, which was great. It’s a fantastic opportunity, and I’m really grateful to them for their trust and their support.

 

What’s your main goal now?

 

There aren’t that many athletes my age in Switzerland. My current aim is, therefore, to take part in some races abroad so I can measure myself against the international competition. Right now, I’m training for the 10km in Valencia Ibercaja. I’m hoping to run it in under 30 minutes. Long-term, my dream is to represent Switzerland in the Olympics like Tadesse Abraham. And if I get to meet my hero Mo Farah somewhere along the way, that would be just great! He’s originally from Somalia too and has a similar story to mine. He also started out playing football and then switched to running, and he runs the same distances as me. And he’s got four Olympic titles under his belt!

 

What message would you like to send to other young refugees and migrants?

 

I’d tell them to take advantage of the great opportunity Generali offers with the THSN Refugee Team. And I’d tell them to keep going. That’s important in sport and also when it comes to integration. It’s not easy at first. But if you keep going, if you keep going to training, it gets easier.