May 8, 2006


Townies' Osei proves a fast learner (J Gillool, May 8, 2006, Providence Journal)

The first time he ran a race against American high school students, he was disqualified for false starts.

The next time he raced, he made it out of the starting blocks but finished last.

Not exactly the start you would have expected from someone who is now sprinting toward the American dream.

But then Eric Osei 's journey to national high school track prominence has never followed the normal script for an American teenage success story.

"The first time I false started and was kicked-out. The second time I finished last. But I knew I was fast. I knew I could do it," said Osei, the East Providence High senior track star.

He was right.

They have been running high school track meets in Rhode Island for at least 70 years, and in all that time nobody has ever run faster than Eric Osei.

He has run the indoor 55-meter sprint faster than any Rhode Island schoolboy ever has, and nobody from Rhode Island has ever run 100 meters outdoors as fast as Osei. For a few weeks this winter, he not only was the fastest high school student in Rhode Island, he also was the fastest 55-meter high school runner in the country.

But Osei's story is as much about clearing life's hurdles as it is about sprinting to the finishing line.

It's the story of a teenager who spent eight years living in his native Ghana, Africa, separated from his parents while they tried to earn enough money to bring all of their children to America.

It's a saga of a kid who only three years ago stepped into an environment where he couldn't speak the language and didn't understand what it meant to be an American teenager, but now is headed toward the American dream of a scholarship at a major university.

It's also the tale of a young man who knows talent comes with responsibility.

"My father says it's a gift from God," Osei said of his speed. "I know I have to work to be good at it."

His presence in America is by luck of the draw -- literally.

"My uncle was living in Rhode Island and he won the lottery, so he invited my mother and father to come to America," said Osei.

But there wasn't enough money to bring the entire family to America, so Osei's parents left their five children with relatives in Ghana. The plan was to eventually bring the entire family to America, but it took time.

"My two (older) sisters came here two years after my parents, and we (Osei and his two younger brothers) came here eight years after my parents," he said.

By that time, Osei was 16 years old.

It's never easy for a 16-year-old to integrate himself into a new social environment, but it can be especially difficult when that 16-year-old doesn't speak the same language as his new classmates.

"I spoke Twi," Osei said of the native language of Ghana. "But my mother told me I had to learn English. She told me I had to be a man and do it."

It actually sounds like a rather typical script.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 8, 2006 7:13 PM
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