Like most kids, Wayzata High School graduate Annika Halverson started playing sports as a kid. She tried out swimming, gymnastics, soccer—pretty much everything. And like many, she didn’t find her calling until her middle school years. Unlike most, however, she was living in Tanzania at the time.
Halverson’s father Jonathan does international work that takes the family around the world. “The benefits of exposing the family to a country like Tanzania far outweighed the risks,” he says. “They gained a whole new world view.” Annika, the oldest of four children, was born in Boston. The family moved to Plymouth when she was 1, England when she was 7, Wayzata when she was 9, Tanzania when she was 10 and back home to Minnesota before starting high school.
It was in Tanzania that Annika Halverson started running. She formed a running club with two friends from school. They didn’t compete, but the group grew to about 10 kids, plus a coach, by the time Halverson moved back to the United States. “It was a fun social time,” she says. “It was mainly an excuse to get together with other classmates.”
The school Halverson attended was an international school, meaning she had classmates from all over the world; 33 countries, to be exact. She had friends from India, Rwanda, Uganda, England, Finland, South Korea.
School allowed Halverson to spend time with kids her own age, which was hard to do otherwise. She says Tanzania can be a dangerous country. Their house had a 12-foot-tall fence with electric wire on the windows, plus a security guard patrolling the grounds.
“Something crazy would happen every day,” Halverson says. From seeing cockroaches or rats running around to the terrible traffic or almost daily car accidents, living in a third-world country was an enlightening adventure.
Even with all that, Halverson loved the experience. “The people are amazing in Tanzania, and I love the culture,” Halverson says. “They’re all about enjoying life and living in the moment.”
Before leaving, Jonathan Halverson and his wife Cara started a 5K race for the kids in the running club. The race expanded to include local kids who lived in the village, which was a brand-new experience for them. They mapped out a route through the school campus, and the race turned into a community event that takes place to this day. Funds from the race helped raise money for the school.
The Halversons returned to the United States in time for Annika Halverson’s freshman year at Wayzata High School. She joined the track and cross-country teams to not only continue her running career, but also make friends after spending several years away. Being part of the team helped her re-adjust to life in the United States, and she also became a successful runner.
The Wayzata team made it to the state tournament every year of her high school career, winning titles both her junior and senior seasons. Her senior season proved most memorable of all, as the team ended up winning the national tournament in Portland, Oregon.
Halverson is now in her sophomore year at Bethel University. She continues to run cross-country. Running has helped shape who she is, but not as much as traveling and spending time in Tanzania. She plans to major in sociology and work internationally, traveling the world the way her family has done.