Herndon High School senior Adin Kavazovic was 10 years old when he picked up his first rifle. Ermin Mujezinovic, also a Herndon senior, was eight years old when the grenade he was playing with in his grandfather’s backyard malfunctioned and a minor explosion buried shrapnel into his face.“I was bleeding so bad. Those pieces stayed in my face for so long,” said Mujezinovic.Standing on Herndon High School’s track, the 18-year-old cousins recount their journey from their birthplace, Vitez, Bosnia, and how it is that they have come to help Herndon coach Peter Sherry’s cross-country team become one of the top teams in the state. They try to explain how the country’s civil war, which raged from 1992 through 1995 and claimed a reported 250,000 lives, put them among the millions of refugees by the time they were barely teenagers. They try to explain their hatred for Serbs through quick jokes and laughs. They try to explain how the war changed the lives of their family members and took the lives of some of their friends. It’s different over there, they try to explain.“You can go outside your house and just start shooting,” said Kavazovic.Just a few years removed from war-torn Bosnia, Kavazovic and Mujezinovic — who run with Herndon's cross-country and track teams — helped Herndon’s Distance Medley Relay (DMR) team climb to a sixth place national ranking last season. Their athletic achievements have given them something that most of their American classmates take for granted — a chance. They have gone from future freedom fighters to All-American distance runners and in Wednesday’s Concorde District Cross Country Meet at Burke Lake Park, the seniors will look to make good on the chance to take Herndon to the top of the district.“When you consider it, here everyone gets a chance. But where we come from no one gets a chance; you have to fight for that chance,” said Mujezinovic, who along with his cousin gained All-American status after their DMR team took sixth at the National Track and Field Tournament in Greensboro, N.C. last June.The DMR team took third at the Penn Relays “Which is significant in that it is the most prestigious high school relay meet in the country/world,” said Sherry.
ON MAY 7, 2001, Mujezinovic left behind an uncertain future in Bosnia — one that most likely would have pushed him and his cousin into required service with Bosnia’s army.“Last year, when I went to my country they were ready to call me into the army, because in Europe when you are 18 you have to serve,” said Adin, whose father — a solider in the war — was nearly killed 13 years ago and was evacuated to the United States to receive the medical care he needed. That event set in motion a chain of events that led to both of the families emigrating to the United States. “He was supposed to lose his arm and a leg,” said Adin, who followed his father to the U.S. four years ago — a year after Ermin. “Over there, they couldn’t help [my dad]. He had to come here because, over there, they were shooting in the hospitals.” The Herndon seniors smile when they talk of their American citizenship. They take nothing for granted.“If I can bring five Bosnians to practice with me, we would be ranked No. 1 in the nation,“ said Mujezinovic, whose gritty and tough style of running has pushed him into the forefront of the Concorde District’s cross-country scene. “Toughness. That is best aspect of his running,” said Herndon senior teammate Matt Giorgis of Mujezinovic. “No matter what kind of shape he is in, he has that aspect. You can’t really train for it, you just have to have it.”Last season, Mujezinovic’s toughness led him to a second place finish in the Northern Region tournament. He took ninth in the Virginia High School League state tournament, helping Herndon to a fifth place finish. Also a track star, Mujezinovic’s personal bests include a 4-minute 13-second 1600-meter, and top times in the 800-meter (1:57) and 3200-meter (9:22). Mujezinovic was the district champion in the 1600-meter and 1000-meter and was part of the 4x800 relay team that won both indoor (2006) and outdoor (2005) state titles.“Once you start running you cannot stop,“ said Mujezinovic. “You get addicted to distance running. When you get to know the people, you don’t want to give up on them.”Kavazovic, who ran the 800-meter leg of the nationally ranked DMR team last season, was all-Concorde district last season and has run personal bests in the 1600 (4:36) and 800 (2:00). His motivation is simple. He thinks of where he has come from.“I think about it and it definitely pushes me harder,” said Kavazovic.
FIVE YEARS AFTER breaking the language-barrier, Mujezinovic and his cousin are still learning the do’s and don’ts of the American culture.Mujezinovic, a team leader, still commits many of what Sherry likes to call “social faux pas.”Mujezinovic’s motivational tactics “which doesn’t let anybody quit,” said Giorgis, include a spicy vocabulary and what can be interpreted as harsh and sometimes degrading comments to his teammates.“He’s tough on people,” said Giorgis. “That’s just him rubbing off on people because he is so tough. It doesn’t let anybody quit. If they are running with us, they are running hard.”Herndon’s team has adopted Mujezinovic’s hard-nosed style and his comments do not offend them. His comments fuel them. Mujezinovic has a simple goal for the upcoming district, regional and state tournaments. “I don’t plan anyone that can stick with me,” said Mujezinovic, who has taken second in the Virginia Tech and VMI Invitational tournaments so far this season. “I am going to try for the school record which is set by Rasheed Thompson, which is 14:57. I am trying to break that, but I am going to be by myself and I know it’s going to be difficult.”Thompson is a 2003 Herndon graduate and runner at Georgetown University. According to Sherry, Mujezinovic is being recruited by Div. I programs like George Mason University and Iona College (New York).“It’s wonderful to see,” said Sherry, a former collegiate runner. “Here is a kid that gets a chance to go to college for free because the kid worked hard. I don’t know what he would be doing if it wasn’t for running. I use him as an example a lot