March 29, 2011
ARLINGTON, Tex. - Esther Abuto couldn't help but break down when thinking about the promise she made to her mother back in high school. The senior UT Arlington middle-distance runner needed a few moments to try to keep the emotions in check.
"I remember graduation night," Abuto said with a heavy sigh as she recalled ceremonies at Fort Worth's Paschal High School nearly four years ago. "My mom was saying to me she was proud I got a scholarship. She had been telling me she was worried how she was going to pay for school. I told her not to worry that I was going to run my way through college.
"After my sophomore year, I was training by myself and I was telling myself that I have to do this for myself and my parents. This is what I came here for. Not having her there, not having my dad, not having anyone to come support me at my meets... I just wanted to make them proud."
Abuto's eyes welled up as she spoke those last words. She moved from Kenya to Fort Worth at the age of 10 with her mother and twin brother. The family learned to thrive in this country, with the kids graduating from high school and earning college scholarships. Their mother, Claire Abuto, earned her master's degree and returned to Kenya late in Ester's freshman year at UTA.
Abuto, admittedly, struggled her first two years at UTA. She wasn't happy with her performances in the indoor and outdoor seasons - she ran the 800m - or cross country. For someone who hoped to run her way through college, she began to have her doubts.
"The transition from college training from high school training was very tough for me to handle," Abuto said. "I didn't have a good freshmen or sophomore year, but things started to turn around for me last year and it was amazing. I was like a completely different person."
Mavericks coach John Sauerhage noticed the change. After her personal heart-to-heart, Abuto attacked her junior year full throttle. She placed second in the 800m outdoors at the Southland Conference Championships last year and returned this season as the league favorite.
"Esther has consistently improved every year since we've had her," Sauerhage said. "She's learned how to train. She's gotten stronger and is able to do more work. It's simply a matter of Esther getting in better shape with time.
"Through the course of four years Esther has worked hard and every year she's gotten better. She has a switch in her brain that she turns on in competition. She finds an extra gear in the competitions that you don't normally see in practice, and she's truly good competitor."
Abuto, 21, has a number of opportunities to continue to improve before the SLC meet in May. UTA is hosting the Bobby Lane Invitational from March 1-2. The Texas Relays and Drake Relays are other important events before the season ends with conference and NCAA Championships.
Abuto also takes part in the 4x800m relay and cross country. While the relay team has a chance to do something special as well, the 800 is her individual baby. Abuto won the SLC title in the most recent indoor season and is currently running about a 2:10. She hopes to get her time down to 2:08 in the next few weeks and is eyeing the outdoor championship.
"I want to finish with a big bang," Abuto beamed.
Sauerhage gushes when asked about his senior from Kenya/Fort Worth. He doesn't get as emotional as she did, but it's obvious his feelings get stirred.
"There aren't too many people on our team that get more out of their ability than Esther Abuto," Sauerhage said. "I'm very proud of her. She's overcome a lot in her life and we're very proud of how well she's running."
Claire Abuto has been visiting for the last few months and will be with her daughter the rest of the semester to sit in the stands at her meets and another graduation. Esther is earning a degree in social work and hopes to return to Kenya to do some good in her native country.
She's not sure if it would be a permanent move, but it's something Abuto wants to try. She discusses the future with a broad smile on her face, one that often wasn't there a few years ago.
"The change came from just growing with the team and just finding this love and passion I had for running," she said. "I had to find that again. Once I found that I remembered what I was here for."
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