The Ethiopian marathoner hid behind a column at the Miami airport as he carried a bouquet of red roses.
Feyisa Lilesa’s daughter spotted him first and ran in for a hug. Then, his young son and lastly his wife.
On Valentine’s Day, the Olympic silver medalist who became an international figure when he crossed his wrists in protest at the finish line in Rio de Janeiro finally reunited with his family. He was a little late (traffic), but what’s a few extra minutes when he’s already waited six long months to see them.
As he made his way out of the airport, his daughter rode on the luggage and his son perched on his shoulders, carrying the flowers he brought as a gift.
“The biggest gift is us seeing each other again — and me seeing them again,” Lilesa said through a translator in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s all been very tough.”
The 27-year-old eventually settled in Flagstaff, Arizona, after making an anti-government gesture during the Olympic marathon that drew global attention to the deadly protests in his home region of Oromia. He never returned home after Brazil out of fear of what might happen to him. He’s constantly been worrying about the family he left behind in Ethiopia. His nearly 6-year-old daughter, Soko, and 3 ½-year-old son, Sora, always asked when they will see him again.
Finally, he was able to answer.
Lilesa remains in the U.S. on a special skills visa. His family arrived on visas as well, secured through his attorney.
The plan now is this: A few days of beach time and then it’s off to Flagstaff where the family will settle into everyday life in their rental house.
One weight off his mind.
Still, he can’t forget what his country is going through, with the Oromia region experiencing anti-government protests over recent months. Violent anti-government protests spread to other parts of Ethiopia and led to a state of emergency that was declared in October.
Since his gesture, many have described Lilesa as a national hero.