HOUSTON (11-Jan) -- They were only teenagers when they met in Arsi Province in their native Ethiopia, but Buzunesh Deba and Worku Beyi quikly knew that they were meant to be together. Little did the now-married couple know that they would become a potent athlete/coach team, generating eight marathon victories and a place on the podium of the ING New York City Marathon.
"Then I saw her, and she beat all athletes," Beyi recalled of their first encounter when Deba was only 13 years-old and he was 15. He continued: "Then I called her (and asked) do you have anyone who is training you?"
Beyi, who has a 10-K personal best of 28:36, has an eye for talent. In 2003, Deba made her first Ethiopian national team, running in the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in La Broye, Switzerland, where she finished 35th and shared in a team gold medal. That opened the door for her to enter a few international competitions in Japan the following year, and she managed to get to America in 2005, settling in the Bronx section of New York City (Beyi joined her the following March). She immediately took a liking to New York City.
"Oh my God!" she exclaimed when asked what she liked best about New York. "I love New York. I love Central Park."
It was in that Park where Beyi realized that he needed to give up his own running dreams so that Deba could achieve hers. He started to write out all of her training programs and became a tireless training partner and coach. She quickly got stronger, and began to dominate the local races put on by the New York Road Runners.
"She is very, very serious about her training," Beyi observed. "All the time she is training."
Deba had her fist full season of road racing in 2008, winning at distances from the mile to the 10-K. She ran three half-marathons that year with a best of 1:14:37 at the NYC Half. A year later, she moved to the marathon with solid results. She won the low-key Quad Cities Marathon in Moline, Ill., in her debut in 2:44:22 (good for $3500 in prize and bonus money), then finished a surprising seventh at the ING New York City Marathon in 2:35:54 ($7000). A month later, she won the California International Marathon in Sacramento, Calif., in 2:32:17, earning the largest payday of her career: $10,000. She credited her husband. In each successive race she improved her time.
"He's a nice person; he knows about running," she said smiling at her husband, who blushed. "He knows about training. He's a good coach and a good husband."
In 2010, the couple perfected their marathon training, and Deba ran five of them, winning four and earning $64,000 in prize money. She scored victories in Jacksonville, Duluth, Minneapolis/St. Paul, and Sacramento, and took ninth position in New York.
But it was a year later when Deba would make her biggest splash, and improve her times to world-class. She won the 2011 Honda LA Marathon in March in a personal best 2:26:34 ($25,000), then smoked the Dodge Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Marathon in June in an even faster 2:23:31, a course record ($30,000). Those performances set the stage for an epic run at the ING New York City Marathon which still defines her career.
"It was then that I knew I was a New Yorker," Deba beamed, recalling the day.
On a gorgeous November Sunday, Deba ran with compatriots Werknesh Kidane and Firehiwot Dado while Kenya's Mary Keitany tried to break the world record and steal the race ahead of them. Keitany later folded in Central Park setting up a two-way battle between Dado and Deba for the win. Dado won by 4 seconds, but Deba had run yet another personal best (2:23:19) and had earned $105,000 in prize money and time bonuses. She was now a global player.
"New York is very nice," Deba said whistfully. "New York is my home town."
Since that second place finish at New York in 2011, Deba has not started a marathon. A foot injury kept her out of Boston last April, and she couldn't run last November's ING New York City Marathon after it was cancelled in the wake of super storm Sandy. It was obvious today that she is anxious to get back into competion, and the forecast for rain here on Sunday for the 41st Chevron Houston Marathon did not faze her.
"I'm ready," proclaimed the 25 year-old. "I trained good. I feel good."
PHOTO: Buzunesh Deba and Worku Beyi in advance of the 2013 Chevron Houston Marathon (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)