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Cloquet student from Liberia runs for many reasons

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Louie St. George

Forum News Service

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Richmond Seju spent the bulk of his adolescence on the run, but he wasn’t training to be a track star.

He was trying to stay alive.

Up until 2008, Seju lived in Liberia, the African nation ravaged by civil war. Amid a conflict that made rampant use of child soldiers, Seju and his family rarely lingered.

“I don’t actually remember a lot about the war, but my parents used to tell me stories,” Seju, the speedy Cloquet senior, said Wednesday. “My mom would tell me how it wasn’t safe and she used to move from place to place to keep us safe. You never knew when guys were going to come in and take your family.

“We used to live every day not knowing what was going to happen the next day, not knowing if we were going to have food to eat the next day.”

In 2008, Seju’s family uprooted to Minnesota. They lived in the suburbs of Minneapolis before heading north in 2012 so his mother could attend Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet. Seju admittedly didn’t think much of the Northland at first sight, but he wanted to play a sport, so he met with Cloquet boys track coach Tim Prosen.

The soft-spoken youngster’s talent, however raw, was indisputable.

“We brought him out to practice and I think he was wearing work boots,” Prosen recalled. “We did some workouts right away and he just blew by everyone, and everyone was like, ‘Who is this guy?’ ”

Two years later, Seju hasn’t come close to realizing his full potential. That’s because he’s still relatively new to the sport and his technique remains a work in progress. Right now, it’s best described as unorthodox.

“Rich has a very unique technique,” said Jeff Leno, who primarily works with Cloquet’s sprinters. “Anybody who knows sprinting would watch Rich and the response would be, ‘Man, we need to work on that; his technique is off a little bit.’ He actually has a very smooth technique.

“When Rich runs by himself, you can’t even hear him, the actual footsteps. He’s so light.”

The result is an athlete aiming to qualify for the state meet in four different events: 100- and 200-meter dashes, 1,600 relay and the long jump. At the initial Lake Superior Conference meet, Seju was first in the 100 (11.1 seconds) and 200 (23.4) while finishing third in the long jump (18 feet, 8 inches). He helped the Lumberjacks fend off Duluth Denfeld in the 1,600 relay with a time of 3 minutes, 39 seconds.

And Seju fully expects to get faster as the spring progresses. The big holdup, he says, are slow starts from the blocks. The consummate perfectionist is working tirelessly to shore that up, staying late after practice almost daily.

“He’s very focused,” Prosen said. “He’s had to work for everything he’s ever received.”

No longer running for his life, it’s nonetheless therapeutic for Seju.

“When I get out there on the track, I let everything go,” he said. “I’m just by myself.”

Editor’s note: Look for a more comprehensive story on Richmond Seju in the Pine Journal soon. There’s a lot more to this young man than athletics.