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Murray Journal

Mt. Vernon Academy sprinters finding life more tranquil here than their home countries

May 08, 2019 04:06PM ● By Carl Fauver

Principal Mike Lambson, sprinters Ketu Achebo and Ronald Colina de Souza and track coach Ryan Lambson (L-R) outside their Mt. Vernon Academy School in Murray. (Carl Fauver/City Journals)

By Carl Fauver | [email protected]

Murray’s small, private school — Mount Vernon Academy (240 E. 5600 South) — has just 90 students in grades K through 12. A third of those fill high school grades, ninth to 12th. And Principal Mike Lambson says half of those 30 students are from outside the United States.

“That percentage of foreign students may be a bit high, but not by much,” Lambson said. “We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of students from Asia over the years. We added it up the other day and discovered we have had students from about 45 different countries.”

Two of those 15 high school students this year, from outside the country, are members of the school’s small track team. The five boys and three girls who make up the team do not expect to accomplish anything particularly grandiose. School officials say they compete to simply get a little exercise.

But those two international track team members also likely use their participation as a distraction, to help keep bigger issues off their minds.

Ninth-grader Ketu Achebo is from Igbuzor, Nigeria (7,375 miles away), while Ronald Colina de Souza calls Venezuela (3,425 miles away) home. Political tensions are running so high in Ronald’s South American country, the sophomore prefers not to say exactly which Venezuelan city his family calls home.

Indeed, Venezuela has been in the news for months now, as a political powder keg continues to rumble. The country’s President Nicolas Maduro – who the western media openly describe as a dictator – enjoys the backing of his own military and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

However, in January the country’s opposition leader Juan Guaido announced himself to be Venezuela’s interim president. He enjoys the support of the United States and several other western nations.

Back in his Venezuelan home, Ronald Colina de Souza said his family supports Guaido as well.

“The prices for bread and everything else goes up all the time – costs are so high,” Colina des Souza said in Spanish, as translated by Mt. Vernon Principal Lambson. “This has been a bad problem for about 10 years. My family cannot afford the things we need to live, as well as we could just a few years ago.”

Colina de Souza describes his parents as “middle class,” by Venezuelan standards. His father is a security guard while his mother works for a bank.

“At first the problems were primarily just economic,” Colina de Souza added. “But in recent years it has also felt unsafe to be out on the streets (around his Venezuelan home). My mom stopped allowing me to go to the park or other places by myself.”

 Ironically, Colina de Souza is actually a United States citizen. Although he lived virtually his entire life in Venezuela, his parents were actually living in this country for a short time when he was born. With that benefit of citizenship, Colina de Souza has no plans to ever return to Venezuela to live.

“I am very, very content living here in the United States and attending Mt. Vernon,” he concluded. “After high school I hope to attend college. At this point I think I would like to become a mechanical engineer. I feel much safer here.”

Colina de Souza lives with an aunt and uncle here in the Salt Lake Valley and has a couple of cousins who previously attended Mt. Vernon Academy.

Meantime, Nigerian born Ketu Achebo has no relatives in the area. But like his older brother, Sommy Achebo, Ketu lives with one of the school’s teachers – and Principal Lambson’s sister – Kelly Hill.

“He’s a smart boy, loves to read and is taking viola lessons,” Hill said. “He also gets to see (older brother) Sommy, when he comes home on college breaks.”

Sommy Achebo attends Southern Utah University on a football scholarship and saw extensive playing time last fall as a redshirt freshman. Although he attended Mt. Vernon – which has no football program – Sommy was allowed to play football for Granger High School, where he impressed coaches enough to earn a scholarship.

Although not at the same boiling point as Venezuela, Nigeria has its own share of social and political ills. Earlier this year the terrorist group Boko Haram killed at least 60 people in an attack on the northeastern Nigeria town of Rann.

“We have not had any issues with Boko Haram in the area where my family lives, but we do have street violence,” Achebo said. “My mom stopped letting us leave the house on our own. That’s when I decided I wanted to follow my brother and attend Mt. Vernon.”

As only a ninth grader, Ketu still has a few years ahead to decide what he would like to pursue as a career. To this point he is considering becoming either a doctor or lawyer.

“I like living here better because it feels much safer,” Achebo concluded. “The schools are also better here; there are better teachers.  My favorite classes now are math and Asian studies.”

Like Colina de Souza, Achebo said he has seen enough of the United States to know this is where he would like to live and work. However, he does not enjoy the same advantage as Ronald because he was not born here and is not a citizen.

“I will have to return home to renew my visa and to work out details for living here,” he said. “But if there is any way I can do it, this is where I want to live.”

Both Colina de Souza and Achebo plan to be 100- and 200-meter sprinters for the Patriot track team. They are under the direction of first-year head coach Ryan Lambson, Principal Mike Lambson’s son.

“I just returned from my LDS Mission to North Carolina last summer,” Ryan said. “My dad recruited me to assist him with the boys’ basketball team last winter, and then asked me if I want to coach the track team. It fits into my schedule and so far I enjoy it.”

Lambson is a freshman at the University of Utah where he is “leaning toward” earning a business degree.

“He was a great athlete in his own right and is doing a good job with his coaching duties,” Principal Lambson said of his son. “The track students seem to be having fun.”

Here in the United States, kids “having fun” is certainly not that uncommon. But for the likes of Ronald Colina de Souza and Ketu Achebo, that is a luxury they aren’t likely to take for granted, after spending the majority of their young lives so far, in far-flung countries facing a variety of challenges.