A US Olympian’s Story of Bravery, Courage And Survival
One of the most incredible stories of love, resiliency and overcoming extremely horrific circumstances belongs to Lopez Lomong. Born in war-torn South Sudan and growing up as a child soldier during, Lopez Lomong has escaped bullets, fled from armed rebels during the second Sudanese Civil War, eventually living ten years in a refugee camp filled with disease, hunger and despair. Sure, many men will probably admit to having a period in their youth in which they veered off course or were led astray. However, not many men can say that in mere adolescence they were known as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan — an estimated 20,000 male children who were displaced and/or orphaned during an almost 20-year civil war in the North African Nile Valley. U.S. Olympian Lopez Lomong is one of the fortunate survivors who went from war child to US Olympian and World Champion Track and Field star. Lopez Lomong has literally been running for his life since he was a boy and continues to derive motivation and success from his childhood, despite the horrific events.
Lopez has had anything but an ordinary life. To say it was tough is a ridiculous understatement. Lopez Lomong has endured much suffering in his life. Lomong was only six when he was abducted by soldiers while attending Sunday morning mass with his family. He was brought to a prison, which would later become his new home as he was trained to become a child soldier and forced to serve in the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army. Though he almost died while in detention, he eventually teamed up with older children in the camp and escaped, and reportedly ran barefoot for three days and nights until they crossed the border into Kenya, and into the relative safety of a refugee camp for the next 10 years. It took him nearly 15 years to reconnect with family members – a prayer that today many Sudanese refugees have yet to be answered.
The Making of a Champion
Adopted by a family in upstate New York, he moved to the U.S. at 16 (thanks to a government program), and attended Tully High School. It was there that he began to realize the natural talent with which he was born, and helped lead the school’s track and cross country teams to state titles. While attending Northern Arizona University for college, he earned two D1 NCAA championships in 2007, in the 3000-meter indoor and the 1,500-meter outdoor races. That same year, just a few days after Independence Day, he became a naturalized American citizen. Watch Video
It was not long before Nike called (he currently resides in Beaverton, OR — the real life Niketown), offering sponsorship as he became a professional athlete. In 2009, he won the USA Outdoor Championships national title in 1500, coming in at 3:41.68. He repeated his victory the following year with an impressive run that saw him complete the last 400 meters in 51.29 seconds. 2010 also saw him continuing to improve in speed, even beating the personal best time in the 1500 he’d established in 2009 at the World Athletics Championships (3:32:94) by close to a second, hitting 3:32:20 in Monaco at a Diamond League meeting.
Though he has yet to secure an Olympic medal, he is proud to have qualified for two back-to-back U.S. Olympic teams, and was even selected by his teammates as the flagbearer for the 2008 Opening Ceremony. Today he still races professionally, most recently taking home the top spot for the 1500 (his clear specialty) in the 2014 USA Indoor Track & Field Championships. But, it’s what Lopez is doing off the track that is really turning heads and providing inspiration for those around him.
Lopez Gives Back
Lopez Lomong has made it a priority to give back to Sudan. The country is among the youngest and poorest in the world, and struggles in many areas as it attempts to rebuild after a civil war that lasted more than a decade. Lomong spends much time devoting himself to helping South Sudanese residents find clean water, healthcare and education through his Lopez Lomong Foundation — The mission of the organization is to provide clean water, education, health care and nutrition to a generation of young South Sudanese. In 2012, Lopez Lomong was honored as Visa Humanitarian of the Year for all of his charitable contributions. Along with World Visions, the Lopez Lomong Foundation has developed the 4 South Sudan project. He’s written an autobiography called Running for My Life: One Lost Boy’s Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games, and continues to train on the Nike campus as part of an elite group coached by Jerry Schumacher.
Now 30 years old, Lopez Lomong is a NCCAA Champion, World Champ and US Olympian, and courageous survivor always working to provide a better life for those in need. Sure, he’s come a long way, and probably believes he has more ground to cover, but it’s clear that this former Lost Boy found his way around the track.
“The thing about dreams, though, is they usually sound crazy to everyone but you.”
“War is always far worse on the poor than the rich. Always.”