Westbrook High’s Mahamed Sharif ran the fastest indoor 800-meter time ever by a Maine high schooler last winter as a junior – the first season he ever competed in the event. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

WESTBROOK — Mahamed Sharif is one of eight children. He says it can sometimes be loud at home, and that might explain his gregarious nature.

“Coming from that, there is a lot of social interaction,” said Sharif, a senior at Westbrook High.

During track meets, he is often seen talking to his opponents and their coaches, always a smile on his face.

“He’s very interesting,” said Westbrook senior Dante Lingley. “He’s fun, outgoing, friendly, talkative. A nice and motivating leader.”

But more than anything, Sharif, is known for his running ability. He burst onto Maine’s high school track scene last winter, breaking the indoor state record in the 800 meters (1 minute, 55.45 seconds), then running the fastest indoor time ever by a Maine high schooler at the New Balance Indoor Nationals (1:53.72). Sharif continued his rise in the outdoor season, winning the Class A state championship in the 800 and finishing 13th at nationals. He ranks third all-time outdoors with a best of 1:52.88.

Not bad for someone who had never competed at that distance in his first two years of high school.

“He was a 400 runner his freshman and sophomore year,” said Claton Conrad, Westbrook’s indoor track coach. “We were thinking about going that way (to the 800) with him anyway, toward the longer distances, because he was quick.

“And he just got really fast really quick.”

His ceiling seems very high.

“I think his range is probably the best in the state,” said Derek Veilleux, the boys’ coach at Scarborough. “He can go from the 200 to the 5K. And that’s impressive.”

How did he do it? “I think it was finding the right race,” said Sharif.

Mahamed Sharif holds off Hampden Academy’s Wyatt Lord to win the 800 meters at the 2019 Class A outdoor state championships in Lewiston. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Or maybe, as Lingley suggested, he just took running more seriously. Sharif was friendly with former Westbrook standout Nyagoa Bayak, a three-time all-America high jumper who is now a freshman competing for Louisiana State. He looked up to her, calling her “a legacy icon.”

He wanted to be like her. “She would say I was not living up to my potential,” he said. “I would say I was sorry, but looking back I could see it.”

He knows this year he won’t sneak up on anyone. And that’s all right with Sharif. “I definitely want to prove I can do it again,” he said.

He’s also motivated for another reason. Sharif’s parents came to Maine in the 1990s from Somalia. While he was born here, he has a strong sense of the Somali community, mostly because his parents make sure all their children have that sense of their homeland.

Right now, his mother and four younger brothers are in Kenya.

“My mom and dad want them to to learn about our culture and be involved in it,” said Sharif, who spent a couple months visiting Kenya and Somalia when he was in the eighth grade. “Living here, it kind of gets washed away. But I love my culture. I try to learn as much about it as I can.”

He feels a strong bond to the local Somali community. “It strives me to do my very best in whatever I do,” he said. “A lot of others don’t have the opportunities that I do. I try to be the best example that I can be, to show the other kids in my community that, ‘You can do this.'”

Part of the Somali culture is a love of soccer. Sharif began playing soccer when he was 9, following his father to what he called “practice games,” and continued through high school until this year, when he switched to cross country. He finished third at the Class A state meet.

While Sharif said he missed soccer greatly, he added that running cross country made him “tougher mentally and physically.”

Veilleux is certain that running cross country has better prepared Sharif for the indoor season. “Last year was all about learning how to race at a fast pace in the 800,” said Veilleux. “This year, he’s going to be a lot more comfortable. And cross country added some strength that he didn’t have in the past. And he has a lot of confidence in what he did last year.”

Even though he had never run the 800 in a high school meet before last year, the distance wasn’t completely foreign to Sharif. “Before last year, every meet I ran the 400 and 200, but at practice, I practiced with the distance kids,” he said.

But it wasn’t until he actually raced the distance – finishing in 1:54.89 at the Dartmouth Relays last winter – that he realized his potential.  “It was super exciting,” he said.

And now he’s looking for an even better senior year.

“I try to keep myself humble,” he said. “I know I have the capabilities, but this is a new year and anything can happen. I just try to go as fast as possible.”

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