Under a navy blue Reseda High cross-country canopy, sophomore Jude Sandridge placed his right arm around the shoulder of his freshman sister, Rosemary, and his left arm around the shoulder of his junior sister, Molly. Their smiles were genuine and offered a tiny hint of how much they love running, a sport they didn’t discover until moving from Uganda after they were adopted by an American family.
Rosemary came to the United States when she was 6 and the other two followed three years ago. Jude and Molly used to walk three miles to school, sometimes barefoot, from a village outside Fort Portal, Uganda, 184 miles west of Kampala. Their village was at the base of the Rwenzori Mountains, where gorilla tracking takes place.
They lived in Raleigh, N.C., until arriving for the first day of school at Reseda in August. Cross-country coach Damien Mendoza said he received an email from their father telling him the siblings wanted to go out for cross-country and track. At first, he was not impressed with Jude’s times. Everything changed after he finally saw Jude run.
“I said, ‘He has a natural stride,’” Mendoza said.
Then came the first race at Pierce College at the end of September. Suddenly coaches and runners were asking, “Who is that kid?”
“Now everyone knows his name,” Mendoza said.
Jude enters the City Section Division III cross-country final on Saturday as the favorite, according to Mendoza. He has been making weekly improvement and could break 16 minutes for the three-mile course at Pierce College.
Uganda is home to 2012 Olympic Games marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich but isn’t as well known for producing distance runners as East African neighbor Kenya.
Jude said he never ran competitively until moving to North Carolina and was offered a snack to join the track team at a Boys and Girls Club.
“I never knew I could run until I got here,” Jude said.
At 5 feet 8 and 140 pounds, the 16-year-old puts a band around his blond dregs so they don’t go bouncing up and down while training. He’s up to 35 miles a week, and Mendoza thinks he’s going to be a good miler when track season launches this spring.
“He looks smooth. He flies up a hill,” Mendoza said.
Jude is still learning English, but he knows all about American football, because his parents, Alison and Stephen Sandridge, are Georgia Bulldog fans and every Saturday there’s a family tailgate at home in Tarzana to watch the team in action.
“We’re No. 1,” Molly said.
Rosemary and Molly also run cross-country for Reseda and train with Jude on the weekend when they ride their bikes to Balboa Park before heading off for a run.
“We don’t keep up,” Molly said.
Rosemary also is in the process of starting a crochet business. She’s making colorful purses and clothing. She intends to play basketball. Jude and Molly like to draw. Jude and Molly might play soccer after the cross-country season ends.
What’s clear is how much they enjoy school, running and interacting with friends made through sports. You’d never know they’ve been in the area only three months. Jude was giving high-fives to football players entering the weight room earlier this week.
“It’s been a real gift the connections and friendships they’ve made,” said Alison, who said she, Stephen and their four adopted children — there’s a younger brother — moved to Southern California to open a church.
Winning a City individual title in cross-country on Saturday could happen for Jude based on his recent trajectory, but it would be only the start of what could be years of running. He said he’d be thrilled to qualify for next weekend’s state championships in Clovis.
The siblings have been to the beach. They’ve gotten used to fast food. And they smile if they hear a classmate complain about having to walk a few blocks to school.
It’s been quite a journey for Jude, with the distance from Fort Portal to Los Angeles more than 9,000 miles. Lucky the plane flight is quicker than using his feet, but it’s his feet that could propel him on the journey of a lifetime.