Things were going so well for Kathy Tarpo in her first year as the Beach to Beacon host family coordinator.
She successfully placed 31 elite athletes with 26 families. Even Catherine Ndereba and Khalid Khannouchi, returning after absences of five and six years, are back with their original host families.
Then came a Thursday morning phone call. One of the seven runners who arrived Wednesday night, a 23-year-old from Ethiopia named Wude Ayalew, was missing.
She had arrived in Cape Elizabeth around midnight, and her host family figured she was still in bed when they awoke early Thursday morning.
“She had been traveling for 23 hours,” said Tracy Sesselberg, who first hosted a runner last year. “I assumed she was still asleep.”
Shortly before 9, Sesselberg checked in on Ayalew and discovered an empty bedroom. Turns out Ayalew had gone out for an early run, wound up at Fort Williams and couldn’t remember her way back to Sesselberg’s house in a nearby neighborhood.
With limited ability to speak English, Ayalew somehow encountered a couple from Saco visiting the fort. They called a friend in Westbrook, Kiros Alemtsehay, who is originally from Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
“She was scared,” Alemtsehay said. “I told them, just keep her there. I’ll come and get her.”
Before long, Ayalew was in Westbrook meeting Alemtsehay’s wife Jessica and their two children. After a few phone calls, Sesselberg drove out to Westbrook and picked up her wayward runner.
“They wanted her to stay for lunch,” said Sesselberg, who spent a college semester in Kenya and bought her own Amharic dictionary for translation help. “They’re a nice couple and they wanted to be very hospitable.”
Now the Westbrook family plans to attend Saturday’s race and get back together with Ayalew, who also hails from the Ethiopian capital.
“I hope we don’t have any more of those,” Tarpo said. “I don’t want to lose my job the first year.”
• Tarpo’s predecessor, Janet McLaughlin, coordinated the hosting program for 10 years before retiring and joining the Peace Corps.
• Packet pickup continues today at Cape Elizabeth High School — not the middle school, as readers were directed in Thursday’s Press Herald — from 2:30 to 8 p.m. Also, this evening’s Kids’ Fun Run will be held at the soccer field in Fort Williams, located behind the main gravel parking lot.
Registration for the free fun run continues from 4 to 6 p.m. at Fort Williams. Heats will be run according to age, with refreshments and completion awards distributed after the races.
• Two satellite parking sites have been added this year, at South Portland High and the Hannaford corporate lot at 145 Pleasant Hill Road in Scarborough, with shuttles running to the start and, after the race, back from Fort Williams.
• Last year’s Maine men’s winner, Ben True, placed seventh in last weekend’s Bix 7-Miler in Davenport, Iowa. The race served as the national championship for 7 miles, meaning only U.S. runners were eligible for prize money, so the international elites stayed away.
• Scarborough native Erica Jesseman, a 21-year-old senior at the University of New Hampshire, has been joining top Maine runners Sheri Piers and Kristin Barry on long Sunday runs. “Kristin and Sheri are idols for me,” Jesseman said.
Jesseman said she plans to redshirt the fall cross country and spring outdoor track seasons in order to compete in a fifth collegiate year as she completes her double major of sociology and justice. “I really want to qualify for the nationals in 10,000 meters in outdoor track,” she said.
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: