FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Recent Northern Arizona University graduate Futsum Zienasellassie was named one of FloTrack's "Humans of the Year" Wednesday morning for his incredible efforts during the 2016 track & field and cross country seasons.
In the last 365 days, Zienasellassie has accomplished quite a lot and has hit plenty of milestones. Most recently, he and the Lumberjack men's cross country team ran their way to the university's first-ever NCAA DI National Championship. His fourth-place finish and All-American performance led the charge for the NAU squad, as they became the first non-power 5 team since 1981 to take home the national XC title.
Zienasellassie's year, though, began on the indoor track, where he managed to record the second-best mile time in Lumberjack history after altitude adjustment (3:56.99) at NAU's Mountain T's—a mark that ranked fifth in the country. The North Central High School graduate also posted the country's 19th-best time in the 3000m event (7:53.76) and the 8th-best time in the 5000m event (13:44.89) during the indoor campaign.
From there, he won the conference title in both the mile and 3K events en route to being named the Big Sky's "Most Valuable Athlete" for the second-consecutive season at indoor championships. Zienasellassie followed up those performances with an All-American showing at NCAA DI Indoor Championships, placing fourth overall in the 5K run.
Zienasellassie, who also gained his United States citizenship in January, carried the successes of his indoor season over into the outdoor campaign. First, he logged a new PR in the 5K at the Bryan Clay Invitational (13:37.89)—the country's 10th-best time in that event—before shattering the conference's 10K record at the Payton Jordan Invitational with a 27:52.70 mark. That time was the nation's best all season long and surpassed both the Olympic Trial standard and Olympic standard.
After two more All-Big Sky performances at outdoor conference championships—first in the 5K and second in the 1500m—Zienasellassie made his way to NCAA West Preliminaries, qualifying for NCAA DI Outdoor Championships with a second-place performance at regionals in the 10K (29:50.77). At the national meet, Zienasellassie garnered another All-American performance in 2016 after crossing the 10K finish line in Eugene, Ore., as the national runner-up with a time of 29:10.68. With his run, Zienasellassie became only the fifth athlete in NAU history to register a top-three finish at outdoor NCAA's.
Following Olympic Trials in July, Zienasellassie and crew geared up for what they hoped would be the best cross country season in Lumberjack history. The Indianapolis, Ind., resident opened his season at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational with a runner-up finish. Back-to-back first-place individual finishes followed at Big Sky Championships and NCAA Mountain Regionals for Zienasellassie before he made history by becoming the only NAU athlete ever to piece together four-career All-American performances at cross country nationals.
In summation, 2016 for Zienasellassie looked like this:
- Second-best mile time in NAU history
- Member of the NAU record-breaking Distance Medley Relay team
- Big Sky's Indoor "Most Valuable Athlete"
- Nation's top-time in the 10K
- NCAA National Runner-Up in the 10K
- Olympic Trial birth
- 5 All-Big Sky Conference Performances
- 3 Big Sky Individual Conference Titles
- 3 All-American Performances
- NCAA National Champion
- Became U.S. Citizen
While many will look at Zienasellassie's accomplishments during 2016 and his career as indicators of his excellence, what should not be overlooked are his leadership qualities during and away from competition. The persona he embodies and character traits he possesses mean so much more to his successes than individual accolades or physical skills ever will. In turn, the person Zienasellassie is has made his teammates better athletes and people, too.
For those reasons, it is no wonder Zienasellassie was acknowledged as a "Human of the Year."