Nation Ford High senior Mari Hudson is a runner on a mission.
Hudson was born in the Philippines and spent nearly 14 years in an orphanage after she was abandoned at two weeks old by her biological parents.
In 2012, then 13, Mari was adopted by Robb and Jennifer Hudson of Fort Mill.
Hudson was enrolled at Fort Mill Middle school and, by U.S. standards, was behind in her education, her adoptive parents said. Her English-speaking skills were limited and her math skills were poor.
Because of an age limit for high school competition, Mari was not able to participate on the cross-country team this year as a senior.
However, she had lettered the past two seasons. That setback didn’t stop her. She recently signed to run cross-country at Marian University in Indianapolis. The family visited Marian University and talked with the cross-country coach, who talked to Mari and ultimately offered her a scholarship.
Hudson earning a scholarship is a feel-good story that almost didn’t happen. Mari didn’t want to be adopted, nor did she want to come to America.
All she had known
Robb and Jennifer Hudson had heard on a local Christian radio station about the need to adopt Filipino children. They responded and began corresponding with Mari.
“We had looked at adoption for younger kids and adoption from within the foster system, but this somehow, we knew right away,” Jennifer said. “They sent us a pamphlet and they had already preselected children for this program. She was one of two girls on it and we knew right away, she was the one.”
Mari had grown up in an orphanage and, while it wasn’t ideal, it was all she had known. The Hudsons weren’t the first family interested in Mari.
“When I was little there were many families that wanted me for foster care, but I declined many families because I was waiting for my birth parents to come back and that is what I set my mind to,” she said. “But when I got transitioned to a different orphanage because there was an age limit in the one I was in, and there is a certain age that you can’t be adopted, so I thought I was done, and going to be there forever.
“I started praying and I wanted a family. A year later, I started getting news about (the Hudsons) and I was excited.”
That excitement faded for Mari during the year-long adoption process. She was unsure of what life on the outside of the orphanage would be like.
“She wanted a family her whole life,” Jennifer said. “But in her mind, she always thought her birth parents would come back. She kind of had a revelation that at her second orphanage, after she aged out of her first one. God answered her prayers. She was extremely brave to leave the country. She is the bravest girl I know.”
The Hudsons said the day they picked Mari up was supposed to be a 30-minute turnaround after signing some paperwork. That 30-minutes turned into eight hours because Mari had second thoughts.
“About three quarters in, it was tearing us all up,” Jennifer said. “We were all crying. We told them that if she doesn’t want to leave, we are still going to love her and we are still going to support her. It was killing us. They told us to leave for an hour and we came back and she said ‘OK.’
“I think with all the counseling and hearing that, she just relented and said she was going to trust. Even when we left the country, we weren’t sure she was going to get on that plane.”
Mari said leaving the orphanage was difficult.
“For me, I never wanted to leave the kids at the orphanage,” Mari said. “To me, they were like my family and I didn’t want to abandon them. I never wanted to leave the kids I grew up with behind, even if I only knew them a short time.
“At first, I wasn’t sure about (the Hudsons), because they were out of the country and they speak English, but when I got to know them more, and them always sending support for me. They told me that even if I don’t go with them, they would still consider me their daughter and they would support me. That is when I realized that there was no family that ever said that to me. There was never a feeling that a family really, really wants me. I said, ‘OK, they are the ones.’
“I was thinking of my future. I wanted an education. I wanted to finish high school and college. Then I realized they were the ones.”
A special talent
The Hudsons brought Mari home on Christmas Eve 2012. Mari had to adjust to American life, with a new school, new surroundings and new everything. She found that running helped.
“It helped her to deal with all the issues whether it was adoption related or school,” Jennifer said. “It was therapy for her.”
Mari didn’t take to running until her freshman year and then discovered Duke University running camp. Her parents said they would send her to the camp on the condition that she ran cross-country.
Mari has offered the Falcons cross-country team something special.
“She was one of the more encouraging kids,” Robb Hudson said. “While she wasn’t one of the best runners or fastest, she was always encouraging and motivating the girls that were faster than her.”
Being part of the cross-country team was a first for Mari, but encouraging others was something she had excelled in.
“For me living in an orphanage, I was pretty much like an older person and I love motivating other people,” she said. “I love to put other people first before me. My background doesn’t mean I can use it against other people. For me motivating the other girls and supporting them, I considered them my sisters and brothers.
“Growing up in an orphanage with other kids in an orphanage, I was in the middle with older and younger kids. I was taught to always be encouraging. I had that in me.”
Hudson is roughly 4-foot-10.
She averaged running the 3.1 miles of a typical cross-country course in about 23 minutes. Her personal best was 22:55, said Nation Ford cross country coach Jake Brenner.
“When you are as short as she is you really have your work cut out for you trying to keep stride with taller girls,” Brenner said. “She made the most of what she has. She is a hard worker. She was a solid leader for us. Her leadership on the junior varsity side really helped us out.”
When Mari wasn’t able to run cross-country her senior year, she faced the adversity like she had her whole life.
“The same time I am not going to run cross country, but I am still going to continue to do what I love to do,” she said. “God has a plan and I just relied on that and here now I am able to run cross-country in college. That is one of my goals to be able to run in college. So, I just continued to run.”