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Feyisa Lelisa reunites with family

(AP) The Ethiopian marathoner hid behind a column at the Miami airport as he carried a bouquet of red roses.

Feyisa Lilesa’s daughter spotted him first and ran in for a hug. Then, his young son and lastly his wife.

On Valentine’s Day, the Olympic silver medalist who became an international figure when he crossed his wrists in protest at the finish line in Rio de Janeiro finally reunited with his family. He was a little late (traffic), but what’s a few extra minutes when he’s already waited six long months to see them.

As he made his way out of the airport, his daughter rode on the luggage and his son perched on his shoulders, carrying the flowers he brought as a gift.

“The biggest gift is us seeing each other again — and me seeing them again,” Lilesa said through a translator in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s all been very tough.”

The 27-year-old eventually settled in Flagstaff, Arizona, after making an anti-government gesture during the Olympic marathon that drew global attention to the deadly protests in his home region of Oromia. He never returned home after Brazil out of fear of what might happen to him. He’s constantly been worrying about the family he left behind in Ethiopia. His nearly 6-year-old daughter, Soko, and 3 ½-year-old son, Sora, always asked when they will see him again.

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Finally, he was able to answer.

Lilesa remains in the U.S. on a special skills visa. His family arrived on visas as well, secured through his attorney.

The plan now is this: A few days of beach time and then it’s off to Flagstaff where the family will settle into everyday life in their rental house.


One weight off his mind.

Still, he can’t forget what his country is going through, with the Oromia region experiencing anti-government protests over recent months. Violent anti-government protests spread to other parts of Ethiopia and led to a state of emergency that was declared in October.

Since his gesture, many have described Lilesa as a national hero.

“My mind is pretty much occupied by what is happening back home,” Lilesa said. “Whether I’m running or I’m sleeping or I’m laying back, my family and what is happening in Ethiopia — and what is happening to my people — that’s constantly on my mind.”


Most days since his arrival in America have been spent training. It was his best cure for loneliness.

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“I come from a very big family, and I’ve never lived alone,” Lilesa said. “I’ve always been surrounded by people I know. This has been the complete opposite. Here, I’m removed from all of that.”

Still, he would protest all over again.

“I think me taking the risk and putting family in that position and putting them potentially in harm’s way, it was a good lesson for a lot of people that you need to sacrifice in order for you to win some concessions and change your situation,” Lilesa said. “In that sense, it inspires people to fight for their rights and resist the government in Ethiopia. It also led to greater awareness about the situation in Ethiopia.

“Now, you see more coverage of the human rights violations. I speak with people wherever I go. Even outside the media limelight, people are interested in knowing. They heard the story because of my protest.”

Someday, he would like to go back to Ethiopia.

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“But as long as this current government is in power, I don’t have hope of going back to Ethiopia,” he explained. “I do know change is inevitable.”

He also wants to compete at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Whether that’s wearing the colors of Ethiopia, he doesn’t know.

feysa lelisa

“I’m not too hopeful the system will be changed in the next three years and I will be in a position to run for Ethiopia. We will have to wait and see,” said Lilesa, who plans to run in the London Marathon in two months.

For now, Lilesa’s priority is getting his family settled.

“I knew that we would meet somehow, but I didn’t expect it would happen under these circumstances over here,” Lilesa said. “When I think about my family, it takes me back to why I did this and why I’m here. I missed my family, but this was a big bother to me — the plight of my people.”


  1. Be ready young man!!! You don’t have to wait 3 years. Oromia is set to be a newly minted independent nation this coming April. I will fly you first class on Emirate Airlines to Nairobi from there I will charter a private jet to Finfine all cost covered by me. Then I will lobby the new Oromian government to make you a sports and culture minister. Tell your newly arrived family not to unpack. Keep everything packed because we all going back to our own gorgeous Oromia in just 2 months. You will never run for the neftegnas ever again!!!!! The New Republic Oromia is Coming!!!!!!

  2. Congratulations, our hero!! Thanks to this great land of freedom you are able to reunite with your family relatively so fast. Enjoy beautiful America. It is not only that you you gave the opposition a morale boost, but also gave hope to fellow Ethiopians at home under the torture of TPLF. I wish all the best to you, your wife and your children.

  3. Hi there!

    Heard it through the grapevine that Feyisa Lelisa just sent a “thank you” message to the Ethiopian government for making the reunification easy. In the message, he has asked them if he is still a “HERO” in the eyes of the government and if the promised reward is still waiting for him. In reply, they’ve said it is. If I were him, I’ll jump on any airplane en route to Finfine and collect the price. While the ETV and international media zoom towards me, I’ll cross my hands again so the government will throw me out of the country. That’ll be my second and last reunification with my family. In doing that, I’ll invigorate the fast dwindling Oromo agenda – even big gun of the diaspora social media has died down. With the new hand crossing, there is another 150K too from exitement striken diaspora. Just cross my hands and it is 150K.


  4. One more reminder to Obbo Feyisa. From now you should stop from making any more references to the word Ethiopia. You should stop taking photos of yourself with neftegna groups like G7 and the rest of them. I encourage you to keep in touch with our freedom fighter friends of Gondaria and Gojjamia. Stay with our freedom fighters such as Obbo Jawar and his friends in OLF. Sister Birtukan Mideksa has already joined the Oromo liberation movement. She will be our Supreme Court Chief Justice and Minister of Justice when my beloved Oromia becomes an independent nation in just a few months. So stop uttering the word Ethiopia and say Oromia in stead in all your conversations. Otherwise I will rescind my offer I made to you above. My Oromos have nothing in common with Ethiopia. Ethiopia never existed. It was just a myth. You can refer to a well researched book by our well educated Oromo scholar who is a professor at a university in Southern USA. And always look out for any entrapment by the Woyane operatives who are disguised as Oromos, Gondarites or Gojjamians. You can tell who they are. Woyanes smell bad. They stink just like the worst gutter found anywhere.

  5. Obbo Feyisa:

    I just discovered that you have been taking your pictures with proven neftegna organizations such as the so-called G7. Therefore I am withdrawing the offer I made to you when my Oromia becomes an independent nation in the next few months. I can’t tell how disappointed I am seeing those photos. I was disgusted beyond belief.

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