Akey and Dahir Jumale deliver on the field and in the classroom.
Akey Jumale, along with his younger brother Dahir, started life in Mogadishu, Somalia, or roughly 8,325 miles away from where they now attend classes at Dakota County Technical College in Rosemount, Minnesota. The brothers have earned admiration at DCTC as soccer players and as students in the Exercise & Sport Science program.
As youngsters, the brothers experienced firsthand the deadly turmoil in the Somali capital, a city of perhaps 1.5 million people ripped apart by warring militias and relentless criminal activity. Since 1991, more than 300,000 Somalis have perished in civil violence.
“I was around eight years old when my dad decided to take us to a safer place,” said Akey. “He traveled to many different countries as a world-class marathon runner. In Somalia, my dad is as well-known as Michael Jordan is in the United States.”
In fact, Abdullahi Ahmed, the brothers’ father, represented Somalia in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, where he competed against such legends as Carlos Lopes of Portugal and Alberto Salazar of the U.S. Ahmed went on to race for his country in the 1985 World Cup in Hiroshima, Japan. Eleven years later, just four years after the central government in Somalia collapsed, Ahmed chose a path that would change the lives of his family forever.
“Mogadishu is one of the most dangerous places in the world,” Akey acknowledged. “Knowing that he needed to move us out of harm’s way, my dad journeyed north to Yemen. With my mother and grandmother, we waited in Mogadishu while my dad visited the U.S. embassy. He showed his marathon medals to the American officials to explain his situation. They listened to his story and granted him asylum.”
With a fresh future awaiting them in the U.S., Ahmed’s family, including his wife, Jimo Adow, and their five sons and one daughter, stayed for a time in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, before moving to Richmond, Virginia. The family eventually settled in Marshall, Minnesota, in the late 1990s, arriving in a wave of Somali immigrants who considered the state a haven of prosperity. Today, Minnesota has more than 11,200 Somali residents, giving the state by far the largest Somali population in the nation. California comes in a distant second with 3,600.
Dahir Jumale related that the transition to life in America was anything but simple. “We didn’t speak a word of English when we entered the Marshall school system,” he said. “I had it a little easier than Akey because I had a friend in the fourth grade named Abdullahi who translated for me.”
Akey discovered another way to find his footing in his new home. “We had a race in the sixth grade called the ‘One Mile Challenge,'” he said. “Because I didn’t know the language, I thought the race was a 100-yard dash. I took off so fast that I slipped and fell just as the race was beginning.”
Even with the misstep, Akey finished third in a field that included his entire sixth-grade class. The experience opened a door that would guarantee his family’s acceptance in their adopted community, a rural town of slightly less than 13,000 mostly Caucasian residents in the southwest corner of the state.
Inheriting a tremendous aptitude for running from their father, the brothers were soon stars on the Marshall High School cross country and track teams. Dahir still holds the school record for the mile with a time of 4:16. Both brothers competed on the Marshall team that won the 2004 Minnesota Cross Country State AA Meet, with Dahir placing fourth and Akey placing 16th out of a field of 100 in the five-kilometer race.
“At first, my dad didn’t understand how high school sports worked in America,” Akey said. “But then people began showing him newspaper and magazine articles about us. Our achievements in track and cross country made him very proud.”
For the soft-spoken Jumale brothers, athletic talent doesn’t stop with running. Because soccer is a popular sport in the Somali immigrant community, Akey and Dahir developed a natural love for the game. They polished their soccer skills playing in highly competitive youth-club leagues. After high school, Akey decided to attend DCTC specifically because of the superb soccer program.
“Both Akey and Dahir have NCAA ability,” reported Cam Stoltz, athletic director and coach of the men’s and women’s soccer teams. “Akey joined our team first and made an immediate impact on the field. He was the one who talked Dahir into coming to DCTC.”
Akey Jumale, 21, played forward for the Blue Knights and completed his varsity career after the fall 2007 season. He was a leading scorer for the team, kicking four goals in both 2006 and 2007.
Dahir Jumale, 19, plays midfielder and led the team in assists in the 2007 season with eight. He will be competing as a Blue Knight in the upcoming 2008 season.
“DCTC is a launching pad for the Jumale brothers in their academic careers,” said Stoltz, who is also the college’s director of student life. “Once they earn their degrees, they plan on transferring to a four-year institution to further their education.”
As the instructor in DCTC’s Exercise & Sport Science program, Sara Woodward has developed a solid relationship with the Somali-born brothers. “Akey and Dahir Jumale provide evidence that good genetics and hard work result in exceptional athletes,” she said. “Both are respected on the field and in the classroom. They never use their hectic schedules as an excuse for missing class or not turning in assignments. I really enjoy having them in the program.”
Akey and Dahir look forward to finishing their A.A.S degrees in exercise and sport science in the near future. They both appreciate Woodward’s dedication and personal teaching style. “Sara is a great teacher,” said Akey. “She doesn’t just lecture and leave it at that. She makes sure that we understand our course material completely.”
The brothers also mentioned Dr. Ron Thomas, DCTC president, as one person who convinced them that they had enrolled in the right school. “Dr. Thomas made us feel totally welcome,” Akey said. “After meeting him, we knew that DCTC was the perfect place to continue our education.”
While attending college, the brothers reside in Burnsville, but they don’t consider that Minneapolis suburb their home. “Somalia is our birthplace,” said Akey, “but Marshall feels like our homeland.”
Dahir smiled and nodded his agreement. “When we are back in Marshall,” he said, “we know we are home.”
The Blue Knights begin practice on Aug. 1, 2008. The team practices at the Irish Sports Dome, a premier indoor facility in Rosemount. Home games are played at North River Hills Park, a 43-acre community park in Burnsville.
The 2008 soccer season begins away from home on Aug. 26 at Marshalltown Community College in Marshalltown, Iowa. That same month, the Blue Knights travel to Arizona to play three different schools, including Yavapai College, home of the Roughriders, six-time NJCAA Division 1 soccer champions.
Nicole Meulemans, assistant director of student life and athletics, and Dan Houck, a former player with the Minnesota Thunder, are the team’s assistant coaches under Head Coach Cam Stoltz.
Graduates of the Exercise & Sport Science program at DCTC are fully prepared to obtain national certification from a variety of fitness authorities, including the American Council on Exercise. Graduates find rewarding work as fitness experts, personal trainers, and group exercise instructors in a variety of settings, including health clubs, fitness centers, resorts, country clubs, rehabilitation centers, private homes, and wellness facilities on hospital grounds and university and corporate campuses.
According to CNNMoney.com, the demand for fitness trainers will skyrocket as retiring baby boomers seek to develop safe and effective wellness strategies. The Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks fitness worker as one of the fastest-growing occupations in America, pointing to a projected 27 percent increase in employment through 2016.