Boys Cross Country

Ethiopian orphan finds home, running success in Morgan Township

2012-09-28T18:00:00Z 2012-09-29T04:42:05Z Ethiopian orphan finds home, running success in Morgan TownshipJim Peters jim.peters@nwi.com, (219) 548-4363 nwitimes.com
September 28, 2012 6:00 pm  • 

It's April 18, 2008.

A 12-year-old boy from an Ethiopian orphanage runs up to Lisbeth Savage as she gets off a bus and wraps his arms around her.

"It was amazing," Mark Savage said, recalling the moment like it was yesterday. "He'd never met my wife before and he gives her a big hug. It was very emotional."

The day marked a new start for the boy named Bizrat Zawed, and his little brother Louil, whose birth parents had both died of AIDS years before. The youngsters were soon headed for the United States to become Ben and Luke Savage of Morgan Township.

"In the orphanage, a lot of people before me, their parents would come and you knew they were going to be their family," Ben said. "They have a life, they have a future. That's what it was like when I saw my parents. I prayed about it all the time. I always dreamed of being here. I finally got my life. Every day, I thank God for that. I'm blessed to be here."

The Savages adopted another son, Aaron, now 13, when he was six days old. Members of Liberty Bible Church, they learned of kids like Ben and Luke through Christian World Adoption.

"Scripture tells us to look after the orphans. James 1:27," said Mark, whose employer, IU Health La Porte Hospital, provides $1,000 grants for adoption assistance. "A missionary interviewed a group of kids. We watched three DVDs of them and we loved them all. We wanted to adopt them all. Why we chose Ben and Luke, I don't know."

If you don't believe in a higher power, you have to at least acknowledge the coincidence. Mark ran in high school in Nebraska and one year in college.

"I've always loved cross country," he said. "It's always been in my blood."

Growing up in Awessa, Ben and Luke had only played soccer. Less than five months after Ben's arrival in the U.S., Morgan school mate Logan Redmon encouraged him to run the Popcorn Panic. He not only tried it, he finished 29th, and so was born an athletic career.

"He's an extremely talented individual when it comes to running," Morgan coach Mike Grennes said. "He has the build, the leg speed, all the things it takes."

Grennes quickly learned of Ben, a two-time Porter County Conference junior high champion. In advance of his freshman season, he began training with Cherokees all-stater Alec Kostelnik, significantly increasing his mileage.

"It was a big change," Ben said. "I saw what Alec did and I wanted to be like that. He's everything to me. I look to him a lot. He's like a brother figure. (Grennes) is really my foundation of running. I really look up to him a lot."

Mark and Lisbeth began coaching Morgan's junior high team when Ben was in seventh grade. While raising a second trio of children -- their three grown kids are all Morgan grads -- is no small endeavor, the Savages are grateful for the opportunity bestowed upon them.

"They're more of a blessing to us than we are to them," Mark said. "It's been very rewarding. Our original concern was that Morgan Township's not really a culturally-diverse community, but they've been embraced incredibly by the teachers and students. They're very popular kids. They're as spoiled as any other American kids."

Ben remains proud of his Ethiopian heritage. He misses the family, including an older brother, and friends he left behind, and hopes someday to see them again. Unable to speak a word of English when he arrived, he is now fluent, and enjoys all the questions about his homeland.

"He's great with it," Grennes said. "Earlier in the year, the kids were asking him what his real name is. We go out to eat, they ask him what his favorite food is. He's very open about it. He's just a lot of fun to be around. (The Savages) are a great family. They've done a great job of merging them into the culture."

From the sounds of it, Ben has really latched on to TV Land, enjoying the Cosby Show and The Andy Griffith Show.

"I love Barney (Fife)," he said.

He also loves Lisbeth's lasagna and feels a connection to the book/movie 'Blindside,' the story of Baltimore Raven Michael Oher, who was likewise adopted as a child.

Other than the cold and snow, life is great.

"Morgan Township is amazing," Ben said. "The people are great. There is no negative. It's all positive. If I have a problem, I can talk to them one on one. It makes you feel like someone cares about you."

He's also thankful to still be with Luke, 10, a talented soccer and basketball player.

"I lose confidence sometimes and he always tells me I can do it," Ben said. "He's like the center of my life. We've been together since he was born. I love him more than I love myself. He's an amazing athlete. He's better than I am in everything."

Ben also excels in hoops, but has already committed himself to focusing solely on running.

"The really great thing with him is he's learning every day," Grennes said. "He's got the right attitude. He looks forward to running. He can't wait to get going. There are times he wants more miles. The mental part of the race is the biggest thing he's still adjusting to."

Already ranking among the fastest freshmen in the state, Ben hopes to to qualify for the state finals. Making it as a ninth grader is no small challenge, but given where he's come from, it can't be ruled out.

"I really want to get to Terre Haute," he said. "It all depends on how hard I work. Nothing is impossible with God. It all comes from Him."

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