Kudakwashe (Kuda) Murasiranwa has journeyed far to be a Gryphon athlete.
Born in Zimbabwe during great turmoil in the African nation, the 21-year-old was separated from his parents as a small child, a separation that unexpectedly lasted more than 10 years and spanned some 15,000 kilometres.
Eventually he made his way to the University of Guelph, where he is now a rising star on the track and field team.
He won gold and bronze medals at this year’s national track and field championships in March in the men’s 4×200 relay and 60m races, and gold and silver medals in the same categories at the provincial championships in February.
If his prowess as a sprinter is apparent, so are his depth and strength of character, says his coach.
“Right away you learn that this is a guy who is a stable, every-day-always-there kind of guy,” says U of G sprinting coach Jason Kerr.
“No matter how much chaos is around him, he finds a way to keep everything together. He’s like a rock. He’s the kind of person who is not going to falter in a crazy, high-performance environment. For him, that’s just another day.”
Murasiranwa says learning to live without his parents made him tough and determined. His natural talent for athletics and his capacity to push himself to improve played a major role in the development of his inner strength and his resilience and independence.
“When I was young, it was very challenging. I didn’t grow up with my parents around. It was just my little brother and I,” he says.
“From where I am right now, I can appreciate it because it made me the person who I am. It made me stronger. I understand why they did it – for a better life.”Kudakwashe (Kuda) Murasiranwa
Political and economic chaos in Zimbabwe drove his family apart at the beginning of the 2000s. Conditions in the country had deteriorated rapidly due to failed monetary policies, a ruinous land seizure program and government-led violence against civilians. The inflation rate was astronomical and unemployment rampant.
His parents, Murasiranwa says, wanted their children to grow up free from the threat of violence, and felt moving to North America was the answer. His father, Armstrong, left for the United States first, leaving his toddler son and pregnant wife, Emillia, behind. A boilermaker by trade, his father had trouble finding work, and his second son, Darlington, was born in his absence. It would be 13 years before the father saw his second-born child for the first time.
In 2003, Kuda’s mother, Emillia, decided to join her husband in the U.S., seeing it as a way to hasten the resettlement process. But since she was unable to get a visa that allowed her children to come with her, the mother left her sons with their grandmothers, believing it to be a temporary arrangement. Immigration barriers lingered, and time passed. The boys were eventually moved to South Africa to live with their half-siblings, as violence and starvation spread in Zimbabwe. Years passed.
Murasiranwa and his brother, Darlington, were finally able to join their parents in Edmonton in 2014. The two boys excelled at football, soccer and track, and both immediately caught the attention of high school and post-secondary recruiters and coaches.
Kerr, himself a sprinter, began recruiting Murasiranwa in 2015, soon after hearing a lot of chatter about him in national track and field circles. He says he saw something special in the young man, and not just in his athletic physique.
“If you spend enough time around elite athletes, you get a feeling for those who have something extra, something a little bit different,” Kerr says.
Murasiranwa wanted to come to U of G right away, but ended up attending Southwestern Oregon Community College in 2017 and part of 2018 to boost his grades.
“Jason was always there for me and believed in me. And U of G had the best track program in Canada,” he says.
Once at U of G, Murasiranwa won his first two 60-metre races, and never looked back. His goal is to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games
“I’ve set goals for myself that I really want to accomplish, I’ll keep training hard and working hard at academics and hopefully I’ll do well in the next two or three years. I feel good around here. It’s like a family.”Kudakwashe (Kuda) Murasiranwa
Kerr’s highest hope for his young sprinter is that he gets a good education. Pursuing a major in criminal justice and public policy, Murasiranwa wants to work as an immigration or police officer.
“I think he is going to be a very influential member of community groups in the future. There’s a lot going on under the surface with him,” Kerr says.
When you combine his faith and his life experiences, it writes a pretty poetic story. I think he is driven by a much stronger force.”
Murasiranwa says he is happy – happy with the athletic gifts he has, happy with the home he has found at U of G. His parents now live in Kamloops, B.C. “I talk to them every day.”
And he appreciates the struggles he went through and strength he gained from them. “It taught me not to give up easily and to work hard. I always find a way to get through something, find a reason to work through it. I find a higher purpose in everything.”