When Ali was younger, his classmates made fun of him for being overweight. When Ali reached junior high, he decided to silence the bullies and face them head on, not with his fists, not with his words, but with his actions.
Ali began trying to lose the weight by joining the cross country team. “I was bullied into losing weight and the first thing I went to was running,” Ali said. His focus for the first couple of years in the sport was mainly on getting in better shape, but as the years went by, Ali just kept on running. He began running harder and longer and training more intensely than he ever had.
Ali’s hard work and dedication have not faltered. Waking up for 6 a.m. runs and working on improving his core, he even brushes off the 52 miles he runs per week in the summer as “nothing.” In his last two seasons, Ali has suffered a torn hamstring on two different occasions, all the while dealing with an anterior pelvic tilt (the back of the pelvic shifts up while the front of the pelvic shifts down).
Despite the challenges Ali has faced, he continues to keep an open mind and positive attitude towards life. He loves to keep things interesting, even his training runs, which often consist of him running zigzags across the street, even partaking in games of chicken with passing cars.
While Ali may seem like all fun and games, when it comes time to race, Ali can make non-runners realize that there is a lot more that goes into a cross country meet than running from point A to point B. When Ali runs, it’s not just one step in front of the other as fast as he can. There’s strategy and even a sense of swagger and charisma about him. “Kariem is a great fit for Blackburn, not only in cross country, but the school as a whole,” said Blackburn cross country coach Mark Hopping. “He has embraced the work program and academic programs nicely. Kariem was our third runner this year and he is going to be a great now that he understands what it is like to run five-mile races versus the three-mile distance in high school. I look forward to the next three years of working with him.”
“I zone out before I race. I just try and get out of my head, try and think I’m not racing against anybody,” Ali said, describing his pre-race routine. But once the race starts, his mind starts going almost as fast as he does. “When I run, I tend to look back on other runs. I look back at ‘oh I sucked at this,’ so this is the moment I have to try and get it so I don’t have those moments again. Those are the moments that really get me going. That’s where you get the runner’s high.”
And don’t get Ali started on cadence. In a race, Ali doesn’t just run his own pace, he also tries to match those running near him and adjust his pace accordingly. Cadence is a term used to measure the number of steps taken, or in this case ran, per minute. In a competition, “I try and match the person next [to] me, their cadence. I let them get in front of me and then I look at their back and try and match their cadence. That helps a lot actually.”
Ali just wrapped up his freshman year as a collegiate runner, but the competitor inside him is always there and already thinking of the future by setting both short term and long-term goals. By the time his senior season rolls around he hopes to knock his times down somewhere near a 26-minute five mile. Just with any athlete, Ali’s college running career won’t last forever, so his plans for the future go further than the next three years at Blackburn. He hopes to use his business administration degree to open his own restaurant in his hometown of Granite City, Illinois.