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Standout siblings Karimi and Murimi Nyamu credit Forest Grove and Kenya with shaping them

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Murimi and Karimi Nyamu spent some time together over winter break. Murimi is a senior at Forest Grove High School and Karimi is a freshman at West Point.They say they’re just regular kids — and it almost seems that way for a minute.

Then Karimi Nyamu talks about blazing through her first year at West Point, the prestigious military academy, after graduating from Forest Grove High School last June. She wants to be a senator or work internationally with abused women and children after she serves at least five years of active duty.

Murimi Nyamu is set to graduate FGHS in June, vying with one other student to be the top valedictorian out of the usual dozen or so. He’s been accepted at Harvard, his top college pick for as long as he can remember, where he’s been recruited to run track and cross-country and plans to study economics so he can eventually trade stock on Wall Street or study law.

At the opposite extreme, there’s the siblings’ connection to their third-world relatives in a small African village, where they’ve seen desperate poverty firsthand and gotten a broader view of the world than most American teens.

As they move on to bigger and better things, the brother and sister are “beyond thankful” for the town that gave them their start.

“It was a great place to grow up. Forest Grove is a wonderful city, but I’m ready to explore other places and get out of my comfort zone,” said Karimi, who enjoys living on the East Coast.

“I know without the influence of my teachers, coaches, friends and everyone else I’ve come across,” Murimi said, “I wouldn’t have become the person I am today or have been able to accomplish the things I have.”

Glimpse of another world

The siblings’ mother and father, Edna and Munene Nyamu, came to the U.S. from the African countries of Tanzania and Kenya, respectively. They came to attend college with only a few dollars in their pocket, Murimi said. Now Edna works as an event coordinator and Munene as a computer engineer.

Visiting their father’s hometown of Kerugoya, Kenya, Murimi and Karimi saw people living in a poor, rural community, many making their living off the land growing tea. While Murimi and Karimi share genes, values and ancestors with their relatives in Africa, the disparity of comforts and opportunities struck them.COURTESY PHOTO - From a young age, Murimi and Karimi learned to value hard work and to take advantage of opportunities.

Karimi remembers having to walk to a well to fetch water for her aunt.

And Murimi — who was saving all his pennies for a basketball hoop at the time — remembers a boy about his age roasting corn on the side of the road for money to help support his family. Dirty and poorly clothed, the boy beamed when Murimi’s mom handed him some money. Murimi will never forget that look.

In Kenya, people can attend college but there’s rarely a chance to pursue more education or advanced careers like in America, Karimi said.

And the African culture’s focus on the wider community, as opposed to the individual, also turned out to be eye opening.

The trips to Africa cemented the siblings’ feelings of responsibility to reach their full potential. They’ve always felt driven to make the most of the opportunities their parents worked so hard to give them.

After arriving in the U.S., their father worked months to buy a car so he could get to school. When he ran out of gas on the highway, a woman stopped to give him a lift and paid for his gas. This makes Murimi “want to be the help that someone in the future might need.”

Before going to Africa, “I used to be a lot more self-centered,” he said. “I used to think that if I did something good then that’s good for me but I realized what’s good for me isn’t the most important thing in the world.”

‘You’ll have to work hard’

The Nyamu parents always told their two children, “We don’t have a shamba [Swahili for farm] for you, so you’ll have to work hard for whatever you want,” the siblings recalled.

For Murimi, that starts on the track and cross-country course.

“He’s one of the hardest-working athletes I’ve ever had the chance to work with,” said Adrian Shipley, FGHS cross-country and track coach. “He’s a very determined individual and if he’s going to do something he’s going to do it well.”

Murimi’s dedication and leadership has attracted other kids to the teams and has helped create those work habits in others, said Shipley, adding that the daily training and limit-pushing has led to lifelong friendships.

Murimi agrees. He counts his teammates as his best friends.

The camaraderie and hard work led to district meet titles in 2013 and 2014, and Murimi brought home third place in the cross-county state 6A championship in the fall.

Shipley also coached Karimi, who ran cross-country for a spell and made it to the state meet in tennis. She gave 100 percent, he said.

While training for cross country and track, Murimi has been taking Advanced Placement classes and studying hard for SAT and ACT tests. His typical day starts at 6:20 a.m. when he wakes up to go running before school. After a day of classes, he goes for an evening run as well. He gets home around 7 p.m., eats dinner and studies before going to bed.

It’s been a bit easier his senior year because he starts school a bit later and no longer has to wake up at 4 a.m. to go running like last year.

Squeezing in two long runs every day is tough, but “the more you do something, the better you get at it,” said Murimi, who acknowledges feeling tired but never burnt out.

Parents don’t press

Karimi’s day is also packed. While she enjoys dorm life and hanging out with her roommates, she sets aside 6 p.m. to midnight during the week to study.

Karimi enjoys the disciplined atmosphere of West Point, and is excited for her military service. She doesn’t see it as a chore she has to complete for a good education. On the contrary, “it seems like something I should do,” she said.

In military service and future career, “I’d love to be able to say I was respected because I fulfilled the needs and desires of others,” she said. “Then I can say to myself that I’ve made it.”

Both Murimi and Karimi say they thrive in intense, high-pressure situations, so they’re cut out for athletic competition, ivy-league education, military service and demanding careers.

“Harvard has been my number one since I can remember. It’s always been my number one because it is number one. It’s pretty unparallelled and I’ve always wanted excellence,” said Murimi, who’ll decide on a college after receiving acceptance letters and visiting the schools.

“I’m super super highly competitive and I put a lot of pressure on myself.”

But the one place the Nyamu siblings don’t feel a lot of pressure is from their parents. Contrary to many high achieving kids, the Nyamu parents are relatively hands-off.

“They let us do our own thing,” Murimi said. “They trust we’ll work hard and do what we need to do. I think we’re lucky. But we also work extremely hard to get where we are.”