5/5/2021
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From Somalia to record books, MSUM runner Nadir Yusuf making mark on, off track


By Carissa Wigginton
Saturday May 1, 2021

Dragons senior runner Nadir Yusuf is in the midst of a record-breaking season

Minnesota State Moorhead's Nadir Yusef is all smiles after winning the 10,000 meters at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa, last week. Photo courtesy of Drake Athletics
Minnesota State Moorhead's Nadir Yusef is all smiles after winning the 10,000 meters at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa, last week. Photo courtesy of Drake Athletics


MOORHEAD — The coach bus carrying Nadir Yusuf and his family pulled up to a gas station in Willmar, Minn. — their new home — 13 years ago.

Yusuf was in another strange place, with white stuff falling from the sky.

He stepped off the bus after a nearly 1,200-mile trip from Roanoke, Va., wearing shorts and a long sleeve T-shirt, in December.

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“I was like, ‘What is this? I’ve never seen this,’” Yusuf recalled. “I happened to figure out it was snow. Pretty bad time to come to Minnesota or the Midwest.”

Yusuf, a senior on the Minnesota State Moorhead men’s track and field team, was born in Somalia, an east African country that has been in the grip of a devastating civil war since 1991. Yusuf, his mom and three older brothers bounced around refugee camps in Somalia and neighboring Kenya for almost a decade before the family received visas to move to the U.S. in 2006. His dad still lives in Somalia.

The family was seeking a better life, opportunity, education and safety, Yusuf said. They lived in Virginia for a little over a year before moving to Willmar.

“The Willmar community has been really awesome. It prepared me to be a part of the Fargo-Moorhead and MSUM community over the last five years,” he said. “I’m still not used to the amount of snow and the weather changes; that's something I'll probably never adjust to."

Yusuf didn’t speak any English when he came to the U.S. There were hurdles as he adjusted to life in a new country, but Yusuf is right where he was destined to be.

He made history last week at the Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa, becoming the first Dragon individual to ever win an event at the meet. He edged Division I competitors to win the 10,000 meters in 29 minutes, 12.04 seconds — a new school record. Yusuf shattered his own previous record time of 29:58.4.

Minnesota State Moorhead's Nadir Yusuf crosses the finish line to become the first Dragon individual to ever win an event at the Drake Relays. Photo courtesy of Drake Athletics
Minnesota State Moorhead's Nadir Yusuf crosses the finish line to become the first Dragon individual to ever win an event at the Drake Relays. Photo courtesy of Drake Athletics 


His time is the fourth-best in NCAA Division II and fastest in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference this season.

“When I crossed the finish line last Thursday night, it felt pretty good to go out there to check that box — get a qualifier time for Nationals, because that was the main goal of the day going into the race,” Yusuf said.

Yusuf was determined to guarantee himself a spot at the NCAA Division II outdoor track and field championships, which will take place May 27-29 in Allendale, Mich., and he did. The Dragons senior clinched an automatic-qualifying bid for the first time in his career with the victory.

“It’s been five years in the making, essentially. Just consistently showing up day after day doing what he's asked and really being committed to it,” Dragons head coach Ryan Milner said. “In the period of time that I’ve worked with him here, I think he's maybe had two or three unplanned days off the entire time. He’s just incredibly resilient and incredibly resistant to injury, fatigue, all those things.”

Yusuf took home the 5,000-meter title in February at the NSIC Indoor Championships, again in record-breaking fashion. He won his third conference title with a time of 14 minutes, 14.3 seconds, more than 19 seconds better than the previous NSIC record.

But Yusuf wasn’t always devoted to running. In sixth grade, his homeroom teacher urged him to go out for cross country. He wasn’t interested.

“I said no. It sounds like you have to run a lot, and I’ve never heard of it,” Yusuf said.

The same teacher asked Yusuf again the following year, and he finally agreed to try it. Admittedly, he wasn’t the fastest right away, but he stuck with it.

Until he didn’t.

In eighth grade, Yusuf had to turn in his track uniform for skipping practice. There was a park and basketball hoop right next to the track, where his friends would always be after school. He often ended up playing basketball instead of at track practice.

Yusuf came back the following year and never left. By the time he was an upperclassmen, he developed into a standout. Yusuf was a four-time state qualifier for Willmar, and Milner took notice.

“I don't think we've even come close to what his limits are,” Milner said.

Yusuf has made a name for himself at MSUM off the track. He won the Leadership Legacy Award earlier this week for his impact on the school and community.

Four days after Yusuf reached the podium at the Drake Relays, he was at the Moorhead Fargo Islamic Center scrubbing off spray paint. The mosque, which is Yusuf’s place of worship, was vandalized last weekend with racist and anti-Islam graffiti.

"That was a very tough thing to see happen in our community," said Yusuf, a Muslim. "Any hate or attack on a place of worship — whether it’s at the mosque, the church, anywhere — it’s basically an attack on all the different religious groups and where they gather together to worship."

Nearly 400 people, including leaders from various religious groups, came out to the mosque Monday, April 26, to help clean up.

"It really showed how much the community cares about the Muslim community," Yusuf said. "It was awesome to see people coming together to help each other."

Minnesota State Moorhead's Nadir Yusuf crosses the finish line to become the first Dragon individual to ever win an event at the Drake Relays. Photo courtesy of Drake Athletics
Minnesota State Moorhead's Nadir Yusuf crosses the finish line to become the first Dragon individual to ever win an event at the Drake Relays. Photo courtesy of Drake Athletics 


Yusuf is a Dragon Ambassador, which represents the school to prospective students and community, and a member of the school’s GO! Team, assisting with gameday operations and athletics.

He's also a founding member of Dragons Stand Together, a group formed by student-athletes to address social justice, promote diversity and create a space for dialogue. The group was formed last summer after the killing of George Floyd.

The Dragons host the Ron Masanz Classic this weekend, their first home track and field meet since 2019. All events but the hammer throw will take place Saturday. No fans are allowed at the meet, but the meet can be streamed at nsicnetwork.com/msumdragons.



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