Catching up with NSAF alums making a difference
Ammar Moussa, Class of 2011 from Arcadia (CA) HS and 2016 grad from the University of Colorado, still derives joy and inspiration from watching clips and remembering peak moments in his running career. Those include leading Arcadia as a senior to the 2010 Nike Cross Nationals title in Portland – the first by a California team – and then kicking to victory seven months later in the NSAF’s New Balance Nationals Outdoor 2-Mile in Greensboro with a PR 8:51.90.
Of course, the high points of his Buffaloes career were unforgettable in their own right, including a 5th-place individual finish in the 2014 NCAA XC Champs to lead CU to a dominating team title – defending the crown they had won in 2013.
Moussa retired from competitive running soon after his collegiate career ended. But make no mistake, his competitive fires still burn. After earning degrees in political science and international affairs at Colorado, Moussa took the plunge into national politics starting with intern and field organizing positions, growing into press secretary and communications director posts, and then leading him in March of 2021 to his current position as Rapid Response Director for the Democratic Party in Washington, D.C.
Instead of races on the XC course or the oval, Moussa’s helping to run candidates races and get people elected he believes can impact the country in positive ways. Instead of building to NXN or NCAA championships in November, he’s building toward election days in November – the next one less than five weeks away.
“It’s the same kind of deadline, almost like a race day that you're looking toward,” says Moussa. It’s the same kind of sprint to the finish line. You're working toward a goal, and it's a one-day goal and it happens to be in November, just like a cross-country championship. It's impossible to reach that goal without a good team around you to pick you up on the bad days and remind you why this work is important.”
Moussa had an awfully good team around him at both Arcadia and Colorado, but when he qualified with his HS team to NXN as a junior in 2009, the meet at Portland Meadows was one to forget for the Californians. Despite Moussa taking 4th individually, they placed 20th in the field.
The team around Moussa was better and more mature when they returned to NXN a year later. “I still think about that day, and a lot of those guys are still my closest friends, 12 years later,” he remembers. That was one of the most formative years of my life. We had one goal, one mission. I’ll never forget one of our calmest, most low-key teammates Allen (Leung) saying, ‘I want us to cross the line (at NXN) and there's, like, no doubt that we won.”
Despite much tougher conditions with mud and wind than in 2009, Arcadia put all of its top five within the top 33 scorers for a 92-point total, 43 ahead of Fayetteville-Manlius.
Then with Moussa’s senior season drawing to a close the following June, he came to Greensboro for the NSAF’s NBNO meet with the same redemptive spirit. His track season had been mostly stellar, including a 8:49 victory in the Arcadia 3,200. But then at his state meet, despite an 8:56, he placed only 7th.
“I still think about that Nationals 2-Mile a lot. I had gone into CIF looking for a state title and I never wound up getting one of those in track. I remember being really devastated. I remember June being a big 3-week sprint, with the Dream Mile after states, then flying to Greensboro.
“I've never felt more like in the zone than I felt in that Nationals 2-Mile,” he adds. “It's a video I still watch sometimes. It was definitely a top highlight in my career … and a good way to forget about state. You have to have a short memory as a runner.”
“Then came the 5,000 meter race at Juniors, running in Eugene against Parker Stinson when he was at Oregon and I was headed to Colorado. That was a good way to cap off a really good couple of years.”
When Moussa led Colorado to its second of its back-to-back NCAA titles in 2014, the feeling was very similar to fall of 2010 with Arcadia. “That was a redemption year, too, in a way, since I’d finished 95th the year before. 2014 was my first All-American finish and for our team it was one of the most dominant NCAA championship performances. It was a pinnacle achievement that I think about still.”
Moussa had thought about running professionally while in college, while also considering his career beyond the sport. As a Muslim growing up with parents who had immigrated from Egypt and Morocco, his goal in college had been to work for the U.S. state department as a foreign service officer. But immersed in the politics and culture of a rapidly changing landscape in 2016, he veered toward something that felt more immediate and impactful – first joining Hilary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign as a field organizer in Colorado.
More jobs in more campaigns followed for Moussa in quick success during the next four years: Working as an intern to Representative John Conyers, Jr., then as a press secretary for him after he was elected to Congress; working as a press secretary for the Democratic Governors Association; serving as a press aide with Kamala Harris For The People; then as a press secretary for Hickenlooper for Colorado. Finally, in November, 2020, he was called to George to serve as Deputy Communications Director for Jon Ossoff, who would win a dramatic run-off election for U.S. Senate in early 2021.
“It can be very emotionally exhausting industry, with all of the news that's churning, being tapped in,” says Moussa. “But it’s gratifying that I’m able to throw myself into a competitive environment and get to try and affect a lot people's lives and help better their lives.”
With stellar credentials, Moussa moved back to Washington in February, 2021 where he would be hired for his current position as Rapid Response Director for the Democratic National Committee.
“I get to head up the messaging about the Republican Party, writ large, and ensuring that Republicans are held accountable for their positions on a lot of things, he says. “It's a really consuming job, but I'm really enjoying it. It’s nice to have a little more stability. It's a longer 4-year cycle as opposed to 2-year, and it’s more at a national or senior level – which has kind of forced me to think of things at a higher elevation, to have a good idea of every race in the country. And it’s great to have a good team around me.
“Having those goals and collective team spirit, I’ve been able to bring that into my professional life. It’s so great to be part of a team, that can shore up my weaknesses and I can shore up those of others.”
Moussa still finds himself shaking his head in wonder a little bit that he’s been able to find a career for which he has the same passion he had for running, and where he can bring the same emotional and mental energy – and competitive fire – and work toward satisfying results.
I was talking about this with a friend last night,” he says. “It's kind of remarkable that I've been able to find myself in this business and find some level of comfort and success, mostly due to my running career. It is remarkably similar where in running, as in politics, there are going to be good days (like good workouts) and there are going to be bad days (like bad stories).
“But I think because of my running career, I've been able to remind myself of the bigger goal and being able to conceptualize and be rational about every single day, making sure that the highs aren't that high and the lows aren't that low, and staying as steady as possible. That's a direct result of what I learned at CU and Arcadia.”
Moussa doesn’t missing competitive running too much, but now is looking at it in a new light. “The work I do now fulfills the competitive spirit I have,” he says. “After college, it was either running at a high level, and being all in, or not doing it at all. And I’d always be comparing myself in an unhealthy way to a version of myself that wasn't going to happen anymore. But now I’m finding ways to have fun with running again and getting to a healthy medium.”
Photo credits: Top photo, by Victah Sailer at 2011 NBNO; middle photo, by Sunfairrun.com for RunnerSpace.com and DyeStat.com; lower photo contributed by Ammar Moussa.