My No. 1 ranked Ethiopian friend

So few people have the chance to become friends with a top-ranked runner. I don’t mean top-ranked in the U.S, or one of the top-ranked. I’m talking No. 1 in the world.

I am fortunate that such a person happens to be active in several Spokane running clubs. Lensa Etana, an Ethiopian runner, trains for her races here in Spokane.Lensa racing

Though easy-going, warm, and likable, she often boasts of her top-ranking, even going as far as wearing outfits in races to let her competitors know who they’re up against. Take a look at the below photo.Lensa - WSE

All right, Lensa isn’t top-ranked for quickness, but you have to agree she’s pretty good at self-deprecating humor. She adopted the moniker, World’s Slowest Ethiopian, after fellow running club members chided her for race times that are very modest for someone from a country known for its outstanding distance runners.

I can relate to Lensa because she seems like someone with a similar background and upbringing, and with no discernible accent, one would think she has lived in Spokane her entire life. But her background is more interesting.

We runners often get together. Lensa, myself and others have breakfast after a very cold morning run.

Lensa, myself and others enjoying breakfast after a very cold morning run.

Her parents, both Ethiopian, met in Ukraine while studying when the Soviet Union and Ethiopia were allied prior to the breakup of the Soviet Bloc. Lensa was born there, but when an opportunity arose to go to Sweden, Lensa’s mother elected to return to Ethiopia where Lensa lived until age nine. She moved to Sweden where her dad, a soil scientist, taught at a university. She attended Swedish schools and graduated from high school there.

Ultimately she came to the U.S. and graduated from the University of Washington in Seattle. She works for a medical reference lab in Spokane.

She is fluent in Swedish, two languages used in Ethiopia, Oromo and Amharic and, of course, English.

Lensa enters plenty of road races, so if you’re ever doing the same in the Spokane area, perhaps you’ll have a brush with fame and run past The World’s Slowest Ethiopian.