Running together, leaving an impact

Siblings Zain and Sophia Hamdani making their mark on the cross country team


Angel Harper

Siblings senior Zain Hamdani and freshman Sophia Hamdani both place first in their respective races at the district meet on Oct. 8. There is a shared sense of pride between them. Zain in particular is excited to see what Sophia is going to achieve next during her cross country career.

Spikes hit the track. Hearts pound. Whistles blow as the race begins. These are the sounds that runners live to hear.

Siblings freshman Sophia Hamdani and senior Zain Hamdani have run since they were young, starting with a fun run with their parents and later competing in middle school and high school races. Sophia, who has swam competitively since elementary school, said she became passionate about running in middle school when she was looking for another sport to enjoy participating in.

“I had been swimming since I was 7, but swimming became less fun,” Sophia said. “I was trying to find something else I liked and I just discovered that I liked running. My first run was a 5K; I did it with my family, and it was a lot of fun. I think I was in third grade at the time.”

Despite only being in middle school, Sophia attended Zain’s cross-country practices from time to time. Watching from the sidelines produced a glimpse of her future teammates and coach.

“I wanted to run, but I didn’t have a coach,” Sophia said. “So I occasionally came to the practices, and the coach was fine with it.”

The prospect of having Zain and Sophia on the team excited sophomore and fellow teammate Jacob Lee.

“It’s empowering to have two state qualifiers on the same team and to have them both inspire and work alongside us,” Lee said.

Sophia and Zain remained the only two runners from Bellaire who qualified for the 2022 HISD state meet on Nov. 4 – 5. The Hamdanis and their coaches woke up at 4 a.m. to take a bus to Round Rock, but grogginess wasn’t the only obstacle the siblings had to face on race day.

“In the first quarter mile of my race, someone stepped on the back of my shoe, and my shoe fell off,” Sophia said. “I had to run the rest of the race with one shoe. It was rough because it was still raining, so it was really muddy, and it was so hilly and rocky. I slipped five or six times. I didn’t have much traction.”

Zain had high expectations for his first state meet but ended up breaking his foot by tripping on a rock halfway into his 5K.

“I had higher hopes going into state,” Zain said. “All the years before I felt like state was super hard to make; it was like this big mental block, but senior year I kind of took off the pressure, and it wasn’t that crazy to make. You always wish you could have done better, but it’s all about who’s the fastest in the day. I had fun. I honestly enjoy being up there in Round Rock, and I wish we could do another year.”

Despite their setbacks at state, the siblings are still extremely proud of each other’s performances this season.

“Throughout high school, he’s been really wanting to make it to state, and you have to be top 10 in the region to make it,” Sophia said. “The top [10] guys are all seniors, so it’s a really big deal if you make it as a guy. I’m really proud of him for making it. It had been his goal for a long time.”

Before a race, Sophia looks to Zain for advice to settle her nerves, due to his familiarity with the courses.

“I get really nervous before anything really, but especially races, and he’ll help calm my nerves,” Sophia said. “Most of the time he’s run the course before in previous years, so he lets me know how it is and helps calm me down.”

The siblings share a similar apprehension before most of their races, but now that Zain is a senior, he’s been trying to take the pressure off and focus on enjoying his last year on the team.

“I’m usually pretty nervous, even for little races,” Zain said. “What I have found is, when I take the pressure off of myself, I tend to have less of a mental block. Even if I’m in a really fast race with other really fast kids and I’m excited to be up there, I can kind of psych myself out. I’ve been working on that, especially senior year.”

Looking back on her first high school cross-country season, Sophia is most grateful for the friendships she’s made with her teammates.

“I remember at the first ever cross-country practice we had, I didn’t talk to them that much,” Sophia said. “It was awkward because I didn’t know what to say, and I was thinking to myself: ‘I hope I get to know them better.’ By the district meet, we knew each other well.”

Besides being Sophia’s ride to practice, Zain finds that having a younger sibling on the team has other advantages, such as connecting him to the underclassmen that are around his sister’s age.

“It’s good for both the underclassmen and upperclassmen because you have me as a senior and Sophia as a freshman, so if there’s a freshman I can’t relate with then Sophia can,” Zain said. “It works out well.”

While setting PRs and qualifying for elite meets are important aspects of Zain’s final high school season, his priority is making an impact on his teammates, especially the underclassmen.

“I’m in my last year, and this is the last time to sort of make the most of it,” Zain said. “I want to take the kids on my team and show them that I’m here for them and that I’m not just some random senior who’s going to leave next year, but I’m one of their teammates.”

Zain will continue running at the University of Texas at Austin next year, and Sophia also hopes to someday run in college.

“I’m going to run when I’m in college at UT and take it as far as it can be,” Zain said. “I want to make the most of it.”