Maru Teferi is an Ethiopian Jewish marathoner. Born in Ethiopia, he made aliyah to Israel with his family when he was 14 years old. He is the Israeli record holder in the half marathon and marathon, competed in the Rio 2016 Olympics, and this summer, alongside his wife Selamawit Dagnachew, he will be running in the Tokyo Olympics. Maru and Selam will be the first married couple to represent Israel at the Olympics.
Here are 18 things to know about 28-year-old Maru Teferi (also spelled Marhu Teferi at times, but he spells it “Maru,” so we’re going with that):
1. Maru Abinet Teferi was born in Dangla, Ethiopia, on August 17, 1992. (Making him a Leo!)
2. His mom passed away when he was only 8 years old, and when he was 14, his dad decided to make aliyah (immigrate) to Israel.
3. “We came to Israel in 2006. Three of my older brothers stayed in Ethiopia. I was only 14. Upon arriving, I used to go to an integration center, where I studied Hebrew. Two years later, I moved to a boy’s school, where my older brother was studying, and he suggested I join him,” Maru recalls.
4. He didn’t know he liked running quite yet. “There was an athletics competition between schools,” he remembers. “I was at the new school for half a year already, and the team was missing one member to complete the required six. And they saw me, a skinny Ethiopian, and they assumed I was good at running. Everything thought that. My friends asked me to join the team. I told them, ‘No way.’ I had never done sports before, I didn’t even have running shoes or workout clothes. How could I have competed?”
But, his friends convinced him: “I arrived at the competition wearing shorts and my All Stars. It was a 5,000-meter (3 miles) run. No preparation. Just natural talent. I finished eighth among all the participants.”
5. Israeli coach Rafi Vishnitzer noticed the “skinny Ethiopian” kid with raw talent. Maru says, “He pulled me over to the side and told me, ‘You are a good runner. If this is how you perform without training, you have enormous potential.’ I will never forget that moment, he immediately brought me a pair of Adidas running shoes and a red running shirt. I was very touched.”
6. At 17, he represented Israel for the first time. “I was 17 years old. I ran 8,000 meters, but I did not do very well. And yet, I was excited to represent my country; I was so proud. It gave me the motivation to continue running. I also saw legendary Ethiopian and Kenyan runners, and I knew that if I kept working hard, one day I might become as great as they are.”
7. Eventually, he switched to train for the marathon. “Because I grew up in Ethiopia, which is geographically higher, I have good cardiovascular endurance,” he says.
8. Maru ran his first marathon in Berlin in 2015, competing for Adidas Israel — and ran a time of 2:19:23.
9. He holds Israeli records in 5 km (road), 15 km (road), 20 km (road), half marathon, 30 km (road) and the marathon. Damn. His record half marathon is 1:02:24 at the World Half Marathon Championships in Valencia, Spain, in 2018, and his record marathon is 2:07:20 at the Seville Marathon in 2020. (The fastest marathon in the world is 2:01:39, FYI.)
10. In 2012, he met his now-wife Selamawit Dagnachew Bayoulgn (she goes by Selam) while training in Ethiopia. “Because of the altitude, I train in Ethiopia, Kenya and Italy. I remember I joined a training team in Addis Abeba. We were 100 runners and Selam immediately caught my eye,” Maru recalls.
It was a mutual attraction: Selam says, “Maru caught my attention. We began talking and his personality impressed me a lot.” Maru continues: “The apartment that the runners were staying at was right next to Selam’s home. We connected immediately and took a taxi every morning together for the training. This is how we had quality time to speak and get to know each other better. In the evenings, I would invite Selam over for dinner with our team. A few weeks later, I asked her to be my girlfriend.”
11. Let’s take a quick detour to talk about Selam Teferi: She was born in Addis Ababa on March 24, 1994 (making her an Aries). She has five siblings, and didn’t start running until she was 15 years old.
After Maru returned to Israel, they started dating long distance. “I missed him very much,” she said. “It was difficult. We spoke on the phone, but it’s not the same as being together. I wasn’t thinking of moving to Israel yet, because my entire family was in Ethiopia, and the two of us weren’t married.” They kept dating long distance for four years.
12. In 2016, Maru competed at the 2016 Rio Olympics in the men’s marathon. He ran a 2:21:06, coming in 74th place.
13. After the Olympics, he decided to propose to Selam. “One day, he called me from Israel and simply asked me to marry him,” Selam said. She accepted, and moved to Israel. They wed on January 12, 2017, and then Selam decided to officially become an Israeli citizen. Though she isn’t Jewish, she was eligible for Israeli citizenship through her marriage.
14. With her move, she started training seriously as a runner, joining Maccabi Tel Aviv club. They now live in Kiryat Afa, in Haifa, and train together.
“We also like to travel, and we always go on vacation in Israel. After the Olympics, we will finally have a month off, and we will travel to Jerusalem, Tiberias, and the north. When we have a break from training, we go for a run outside our house, and there are such beautiful places here. When there’s a hill, we compete to see who runs up the fastest. Selam always wins, she is very fast. We are very happy here,” Maru says.
15. Selam will also be running in the Tokyo Olympics in the 5,000 meter race. Selam and Maru will be the first married couple to represent Israel at the Olympics.
Please take in these adorable photos:
16. Maru isn’t afraid to speak out about the treatment of Ethiopian Jews in Israel, and on the racial discrimination he’s faced.
“When a policeman sees an Ethiopian, he immediately thinks that he is violent and a criminal. After the shooting of Solomon Tekah, we wanted to participate in protests, but were training abroad.”
“Three weeks ago, it got really bad. We were on our way home on a Saturday after training. It was 7 a.m. The police officers signaled that we should stop by the side of the road. They were convinced that we were coming back drunk from a party. For a whole hour, the police officer did not let us go and did not believe us, even though we showed her our IDs like she asked, and were wearing sports clothes and explained to her who we were. It was very degrading and infuriating. We are two Olympic runners, we follow the law, and we do not deserve to be treated like that.”
No one does.
17. Now they’re going to the Olympics together. “Even in our wildest dreams, we didn’t think this would be possible,” Selam said. Maru added: “When she qualified for the 5,000-meter (3 miles) run, two years ago in Belgium, I called her and we both screamed ‘Yes! We are going to the Olympics together!’ We were ecstatic.”
18. “I participated in the Rio Olympics in 2016, but there is no comparison because this time my wife will be with me. And even though we will stay at two different Olympic Villages, just knowing that both of us are there is incredible for us. We will speak on the phone all the time and encourage each other,” Maru says.
We can’t wait to cheer the Teferis on!
Bonus: A custom Maru Teferi trading card, just for you!!