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Bentleigh East runner Haftu Strintzos meets hero in Ethopia

IT will be hard to top Haftu Strintzos’ Christmas after the keen runner got to meet his hero Haile Gebrselassie.

While on a trip to his home town in Ethiopia, where he delivered much needed stationery to school students, Haftu was given a gift he had been dreaming for much of his life.

Just after New Year the 15-year-old Bentleigh East boy was called up by a family friend who managed to organise for him to run with double Olympic 10,000m champion Gebrsalassie.

Maria Strintzos with Haftu. Picture Paul Loughnan.And last Thursday, the day after Ethiopian Christmas, the young distance runner got to spend two hours one-on-one with the 41-year-old running legend.

“His advice, his enthusiasm and exuberance is inspiring … we were both in awe,” Haftu’s mum, Maria Strintzos, said.

“We are both on such a high … Haftu was left feeling like an Olympic gold medal winner.”

Haftu grew up in poverty in the highlands of Tigray, but was adopted when he was 10 by Ms Strintzos, an Australian aid worker.

After coming to Australia he realised his time herding goats in the high altitudes of his homelands had given him the perfect base to take up running and he quickly excelled.

adoptedHaftuThrough all that he had looked up to Gebrselassie, who has set up running academies in his homeland to help usher through new generations of Ethiopian runners.

Unfortunately, Haftu’s planned run with Gebrselassie was postponed after he was called away to attend the funeral of the father of one of the marathon runners he trained.

The pair will run together at some point this week instead.

Haftu and his mum have spent the past few weeks distributing supplies, donated by students fromHaileybury in Keysborough, to his old village school and helping to build a well.

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