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Top 100: Sharif Karie, West Springfield, Track, 1997

Running away from a war zone in Somalia to running to titles in the U.S.

Twelve individual state titles, three team titles and two relay titles start to explain just how good of a runner Sharif Karie was. Add to that the fact that he didn't spend his entire high school career in Virginia, and he gets a little better.

"He was insanely good," said former Lake Braddock track coach Bob Digby. He added that people asked questions about Karie's age, because they did not believe a high school student could post the results he posted.

Karie escaped from the calamity of war in his native Somalia, and came to the United States. At first he attended high school in Michigan, but soon after moved to the Springfield area and transferred to West Springfield High School.

"That was perhaps the most interesting thing about Sharif," said his high school cross country coach Vic Kelbaugh. "He had a very difficult time, not in terms of the language, but he was out of school most of the time he was in Somalia." Kelbaugh said Karie had a lot of school time to make up, but did not wear his emotions and his past on his sleeve.

Karie competed for the Spartans' cross country, indoor and outdoor track teams, mostly as a distance runner. Kelbaugh said Karie did not always exhibit perfect form, as he did not have the knee-lift the coaches would have liked him to. However, Kelbaugh said, he had plenty of pace to make up for the inadequate technique. "He kind of shuffled along, but he shuffled awful fast," said Kelbaugh. He added that Karie was a good sprinter as well, running a half-mile in under 1:50.

Still, his niche was distance running. With excellent pace and cardiovascular capability, Kelbaugh said Karie could run all day long. He said Karie possessed three characteristics that made him so good. They were his foot speed, endurance and his competitor's attitude.

"HE WAS A FEARED DISTANCE runner," said Digby. "If you knew he was running, you were trying to get second [place]." Digby said Karie would run two to three races during the track championship seasons. He said Karie's running reminded him a lot of another star athlete's running, a star entering high school as Karie was leaving it, Allan Webb.

Of his 12 individual state titles, Karie won two in cross country, five in indoor track and five in outdoor track. He also won one team championship with the Spartans in each of the three sports. In 1995 he won the individual cross country title to help West Springfield defend its 1994 title. When the Spartans won the 1996 indoor track title, Karie was the individual champion in the 1000-meter run, 1600-meter run and a part of a 3200-meter state-winning relay. The Spartans also took the team championship in outdoor track in 1996, with Karie winning the 1600-meter title and being a part of the 3200-meter relay. Karie's 1997 1600-meter state winning time of 4:05.38 is still the VHSL record for the event.

"He was so phenomenally better than anyone else," said Kelbaugh.

In his last race at Burke Lake, the 1996 cross country regional championship, Karie set his best personal time at the course, running the challenging course in 14:23. "Today I ran the best race I've ever run. It was fantastic," Karie told the Connection after the race.

While in high school, Karie also won the Kinney/Foot Locker Southeast Regional - competitors from Texas to Virginia - in 1995 and 1996. In 1995, he came in second at the national championship in San Diego, losing the battle for the top spot in the last 50 meters of the race.

AFTER WEST SPRINGFIELD, Karie went on to Lindenwood, an NAIA college in Missouri, before finding his way to the University of Arkansas, a nationally recognized cross country and track program. In 1999, Karie won the NCAA team title with Arkansas, beating out second-placed Wisconsin by 127 points. In the 1998-1999 season, Arkansas became the first school in NCAA Division I history to win team titles in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track in the same year. Karie was a member of that team. Kelbaugh said he has not heard from Karie in some time now, but that he believes Karie is still living in Arkansas and has started a family there.

Sharif Karie is 32 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.