Track star’s inspirational story

Track star Bashir-Muhammad: Running the race of life

By Alex Madsen

Emad Bashir-Muhammad celebrates with his loyal teammates after winning the dogfight of the 5000m race at the 2023 NAIA outdoor track nationals meet.

The churning of his legs along the cold, hard pavement echoed like gunshots. He had already run nearly 12 miles so far, only 6 more to go for his weekly Sunday run. His body hurt, but his mind was unattached. The 5:50 pace Emad Bashir-Muhammad runs for 18 consecutive miles would be strenuous for any one of us, but he does it with ease.

I first heard of Bashir-Muhammad from my sister, Kate Madsen, who is a distance runner for the University of Saint Mary’s track program in Leavenworth, KS. My sister befriended him when they were both on the track team together, and since we share the passion of distance running, I also got to know him and came to find that he has an interesting back story that I wanted to know more about.

Bashir-Muhammad might look like the average 20-something trying to run pro, but his story has many layers that aren’t exposed to the average eye. His story is one of struggle, sorrow and triumph: a story that spans three different countries and eight different languages.

Emad Bashir-Muhammad was born in Sudan to a lower-class Muslim family. His father made the ultimate decision to pack up and migrate to a more peaceful setting amid the Darfur Conflict. He and his family settled in a UN sanctioned migrant camp in rural Ghana.  The camp was home to all kinds of migrants from different backgrounds attempting to flee the war that raged the land as black death raged medieval Europe.

For ten years he lived, played and grew in the camp. “We used to play soccer; it was fun and helped us escape the brutal reality,” Bashir-Muhammad said. Life wasn’t ideal in the migrant camp, but it was an oasis compared to what would come.

At one point, an independent terrorist organization burst into the camp and viciously beat most of the inhabitants. “They were beating poor innocent people with the butts of their guns,” Bashir-Muhammad said. “It was a sight that haunts me to this day.” Luckily, Emad and his family were spared from the senseless violence.

That sense of relief wouldn’t endure. After catching word of the violence at the Ghana Migrant camp, the United Nations decided to stop funding and supplying the camp with the bare necessities they needed to survive. After ten long years of subsisting in this little camp, his father made the difficult decision that they needed a new start.

They considered a variety of different options for their relocation including Germany, United Kingdom and France. Bashir-Muhammad could thrive anywhere with his vast knowledge of eight different languages. Finally, his father announced they would move to the land of the free and the brave, the United States.

Emad’s father landed on Denver, Colorado as the new homestead for the family. They chose Colorado because of the countless opportunities and overall culture. “Colorado was very beautiful, but it was a struggle to adapt to the new culture,” Bashir-Muhammad said. “The kids were all nice for the most part, but I was still a stranger, an outsider.” He graduated high school from George Washington High School in Denver and took up a new sport, distance running.

Emad Bashir-Muhammad was built to be a distance runner. His slim physique and strong, long legs combined with his unshakable persistence were a match made in heaven. He started running more and more miles and eventually caught the runners’ high. He was accepted into Friends University in Wichita, Kansas. He ran competitive times and was starting to heat up within the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) track world.

Bashir-Muhammad had an awful lot of untapped potential, and the traditional track powerhouse of the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, Kansas realized this. Saint Mary’s prides themselves in being fierce competitors who always give all-out effort. He fit right in. “I felt right at place at Saint Mary,” Bashir-Mohammed said. “They actually care about the student athletes, unlike many schools.” He dominated as a Spire and placed in almost every race ran.

The highlight of his collegiate career came at the 2023 NAIA track national championship in Marion, Indiana. The track world was buzzing with anticipation over who would come out victorious in 5K and 10K races. It was between Emad Bashir-Muhammad and Robert Swoboda of Cambodia. The 10K was a frantic back and forth race. He was right on Swoboda’s shoulder along the last 200 meters. Bashir-Muhammad began his kick, and Swoboda swung over to hold him off. Emad gave everything he had and lost by less than a stride to Swoboda. He did run a 30:16 and stood atop the podium with his silver medal.

The 5K was underway the following day. Bashir Muhammad would rather bleed than lose to Swoboda again. So, Emad started out a blistering fast pace right off the gun to string out the pack. The crowd roared with anticipation over whether he could hold this pace for all 3.1 miles or if he would die out. After the two-mile mark, there were only two competitors left in the race, Bashir Muhammad and Swoboda. He kept pushing the pace, and eventually it was a dog fight along the last lap. Swoboda tried making a move, but it backfired, and Bashir-Muhammad took the opening and ran with it.

Emad Bashir-Muhammad crossed the line in 14:29.01, a new personal best. He gave thanks to Allah for allowing him to run the race gracefully and without injury. Emad and Swoboda shook hands congratulating one another on the race ran well. They both knew their college track careers were a success despite the constant adversity both faced.

Bashir-Muhammad still had eligibility for the remaining cross-country-season, and out of love for the sport and his teammates, he took up the offer. He ended up getting 3rd or better in every race but one. At NAIA cross country nationals, Emad ran a 24:49 despite the cold and rainy conditions and retired his Spire uniform. During his time at Saint Mary’s, he achieved his personal bests of 3:56 in the 1500, 8:10 in the 3000 and 23:37 for cross country. Bashir-Muhammad was a seven time All-American who was both feared and admired by his competitors.

Currently, he is altitude training in his adopted hometown of Denver, Colorado while competing for a professional track club out of Leavenworth. He runs 70-75 miles per week at elevation.  He is still very proud of his Darfurian roots and persists in the pursuit of peace for people of his homeland. Bashir-Muhammad is also an aspiring marketing professional. There’s no telling what he will do next, but I can confidently say Emad Bashir-Muhammad will do anything be puts his mind to, as he’s proved time and time again.