For Silas Griffith, family plays a big role.
Big in importance.
Big in size.
The Ridgefield High School sophomore is one of seven children adopted by Julia Griffith.
Silas and his two older siblings arrived from Ethiopia in 2008. They joined a Griffith family that already included four children adopted from Haiti.
As one of seven adoptees ranging from age 11 to 21, Griffith is comfortable among large groups.
That helps explain why he feels so at home on the Ridgefield track and field team.
“We’re this group of people who are just working out together,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a star or not. It’s awesome because we’re just watching everybody improving and cheering them on.”
As it turns out, Griffith is a rising star in local high school distance running. His 3,200 meter time of 9:40.22 is the ninth fastest among Class 2A athletes in the state. He placed 16th last fall in the Class 2A state cross county championships.
Not bad considering he has only been running for slightly more than a year.
“I don’t think he knows how fast he is,” said Angela Shields, who coaches Ridgefield’s distance runners.
Strength in numbers
Julia Griffith always knew she wanted to adopt.
Large, multicultural families were nothing new for her. She grew up in a family of 10 children, including five who were adopted from Korea.
Asked what the word family means to her, Griffith won’t say anything about bloodlines, nationality or DNA.
“They are people who care about you in the good times, but especially in the bad that you’re going to lean on,” she said.
In 2003, she adopted two children from Haiti. Two more joined the family in 2005.
In 2008, 8-year-old Silas arrived with his older brother and sister in their new homeland.
“I just remember it being really, really cold,” he said.
Another culture shock came when his mother got behind the wheel of the van that would take them from Portland International Airport to their new home.
“I had never seen a woman drive before,” he said. “So when my mother started driving, I was like ‘oh my gosh, what is she doing?’ “
But Griffith settled in quickly to American life. He said it took about a year to become comfortable speaking English.
He found strength in his family’s large numbers. Sure, there were occasional squabbles, but each sibling did their share to help each other overcome whatever challenges arose.
Some challenges were greater than others. Griffith’s sister is legally blind. One of his adopted siblings from Haiti has a mental disability caused by a childhood case of meningitis.
Griffith said the concepts of teamwork and camaraderie here instilled in him long before he began playing organized sports.
“I feel either way you’re close in sports and at home,” he said. “In both, you can definitely rely on people.”
Mom knows best
Julia Griffith wanted Silas and his siblings to try as many sports as possible.
As a physical education teacher for more than three decades in Clark County, Griffith has seen the benefits sports provide beyond physical health.
Silas quickly fell in love with basketball. But his mother pressed him to try track and field.
“On a track team, it’s a great mix of girls and boys,” Julia Griffith said. “You meet all sorts of different people. You cheer for athletes even if they aren’t the stars.”
Silas was skeptical at first.
“I could just never see myself running in circles,” he said. “But as I got to learn the names of the people here and the coaches, ‘I started to think ‘hey, running isn’t too bad. I can do this.’ “
He loved the social runs in the summer that felt like a bunch of teens hanging out, albeit in motion. He loved the team dinners.
Griffith also loved being able to race against kids from other schools without it feeling like a grudge match. He credits Aaron Brumbaugh of Mark Morris with not only being a friend, but pushing him to break 10 minutes in the 3,200.
“It’s just you against time,” he said. “You’re not worried about the other guys. We could race, then afterwards just go and cool down.”
In his blood?
Silas Griffith smiles sheepishly when asked if running is in his DNA.
Some teammates figure Griffith is a natural because of his native country’s rich roster of world-class distance runners. Even Shields, his coach, admits yelling “it’s in your blood” while urging him on during the last lap of a race.
Griffith sees himself as fully American. But more than that, a citizen of the world just like anyone else.
“We’re all just people here running,” he said. “When you think about it, we’re all just people from different places.”
Griffith finds his family under one multicultural roof in Ridgefield. But he found another larger family on the Ridgefield High School track.
His story is a reminder of those special connections sports can create, no matter where you’re from.