An Austin man was jailed, beaten and accused of being a spy in Ethiopia. Now a group of runners is hoping to help piece his life together.
It's not rare to see Zerihun Ayele on the hike and bike trail almost every day. While many run to stay in shape, for Ayele each step is a reminder of the life he once had.
In 2009 he was a member of the Ethiopian National Running Team. On his way back from a race, he was accused of being a spy. He was beaten, jailed and the possibility of ever seeing his pregnant wife again was slim.
Doing what he knows best, running, he was able to escape. Friends helped him leave Africa.
"I crossed France, Mexico. After Mexico I crossed the Rio Grande River. Midnight," said Ayele.
Once in the U.S., Ayele became a political refugee. It's how he ended up at an immigrant shelter, Casa Marianella in Austin.
"His case worker contacted me and said she had an African runner," said Michael Madison, running coach for Gilbert's Gazelles.
Gilbert's Gazelles is a run team started by Gilbert Tuhabonye, who also escaped persecution in Rwanda in 1993.
"He gives me clothes, running shoes, whatever. I start 2010, still right now I run with the team," said Ayele.
"All he's ever known is running and to be able to provide that for him, it was immediate happiness," said
But that happiness wasn't complete until Ayele learned the U.S. Government would finally allow his wife and the daughter he's never met to come to America.
Although he works at a south Austin restaurant every day, the flight overseas is much more than he can afford. It's why this group is once again stepping up and helping a friend.
"We've been working with the Gazelle Running Group to try to help him get money to pay for the flight," said Madison.
"Very nice people. Like family, brothers, sisters," said Ayele.
A family that will not let one of its own miss the chance at getting his life, his wife and daughter back. Maybe it's the thought of seeing them again that keeps a smile on his face, step after step.