The first time Belesti Akalu ran with his future Shawnee Mission North High School cross country teammates, his knees hurt and he did not return for nearly two months. He laughs about it now.
Akalu’s family moved from Ethiopia before his freshman year and he was soon approached by his gym teacher, Aaron Davidson, about running for SM North. According to Davidson, Akalu ran somewhere around a 9-minute mile in gym class. Davidson, though, saw tremendous potential in Akalu, at the time a junior varsity soccer player.
“I had never run before, and he told me to try it,” Akalu said. “I started and kept going. I got better each day. I like it more.”
Akalu, now a senior, eventually joined the track team and is now a full-time participant in winter conditioning. He’s also enjoying every minute as the reigning Kansas Class 6A cross country state champion.
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He won the Sunflower League meet and his regional meet during the postseason. Akalu, The Star’s All-Metro cross country boys runner of the year, ran a season-best 5-kilometer time of 15 minutes, 19 seconds in winning his regional race.
“Cross country is special for me because it showed me my dreams and my future,” Akalu said. “It showed me new expectations.”
Akalu finished the state meet race at Rim Rock Farm in 15 minutes, 43.4 seconds. He defeated defending champion Jackson Schroeder of Manhattan by 11 seconds.
Akalu will graduate in May and has signed to run in college at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge.
The Star’s All-Metro cross country boys team
Clayton Adams, Kearney, junior. The three-time all-state selection was fourth at the Missouri Class 4 state meet (15 minutes, 58 seconds). He won the Suburban Blue Conference meet, along with his district and sectional races.
Belesti Akalu, Shawnee Mission North, senior. In just his first season of high school cross country, Akalu won the Kansas Class 6A state championship in 15 minutes, 43.4 seconds.
Will Cole, St. Thomas Aquinas, junior. Cole, the Kansas Class 5A state runner-up, provided the Saints with depth. He placed second in the Eastern Kansas League, regional and state meet races. His time at the state meet was 16 minutes, 1.3 seconds.
Ethan Donley, Lawrence Free State, senior. After finishing sixth in the state meet a year ago, Donley improved and placed third in the Kansas Class 6A state meet race. He finished second in the Sunflower League meet and second in his regional meet.
John Luder, Rockhurst, junior. Luder, the Missouri Class 4, District 7 champion, was also fourth at his sectional race. He finished eighth at the Missouri Class 4 state meet (16 minutes, 3 seconds), third best among Kansas City-area participants.
Victor Mugeche, Blue Springs, sophomore. Mugeche finished in the top three at his conference, district and sectional races. His time of 16 minutes, 1 second at the Missouri Class 4 state meet was the second-best finish among Kansas City-area runners.
Michael Shanahan, St. Thomas Aquinas, senior. Shanahan, the Kansas Class 5A state champion, led the Saints to the team state title. He finished the state meet in 15 minutes, 48.5 seconds. He also won titles at the Eastern Kansas League and regional meets.