Olympic mania is in full swing at our house. My DVR is working overtime recording all the races and matches I can’t stay home for, and I am staying up late each night watching our Olympians make us proud.
In fact, earlier today, as I began to compose this column, my children, along with the six cousins we have visiting us right now, sat lined up in front of the TV chanting, “U-S-A, U-S-A!” Now, as I finish up, I have to pause to watch Missy Franklin, the 17-year-old swimming phenom, as she earns her first individual Olympic medal.
While the competitions in and of themselves are riveting, I am a sucker for the back-stories. I am notorious for being a crier, and I am often moved to tears by the inspiring stories of the athletes’ personal journeys to the games.
We are all familiar with names like Phelps and Lochte, and everyone loves the gymnasts, but how many know that skeet shooter Kim Rhode just became the first American to win an individual medal in five consecutive Olympics? Talk about never giving up!
Perhaps the most incredible story from this year’s Olympics, however, belongs to a not-too-well-known distance runner by the name of Lopez Lomong.
Born in the village of Kimotong in Southern Sudan, Lopez enjoyed a happy childhood, until, at the age of 6, he was abducted during a raid on his village by the People’s Liberation Army.
After being held for weeks in a rebel camp, he and three other boys were able to escape through a hole in a fence. They then ran for three days until they reached the relative safety of the Kenyan border.
Lomong would spend the next 10 years in a refugee camp, trying to survive and create as normal a life as was possible. At 16, after writing an essay about what he would do if he were able to live in America, he became one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” who was able to relocate to the United States and begin a new life.
He found his new home in New York to be quite different from the home he was used to in Africa, and often went for long runs to remind him of his days growing up in Kenya. Thus, a running career was born.
After becoming a U.S. citizen, Lomong represented his new country at the 2008 games in Beijing, and will do so again this year, in the 5,000 meters race.
Lomong has shared his inspiring story in the new book, “Running for My Life: One Lost Boy’s Journey From the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games,” which he co-wrote with Mark Tabb.
Famed Olympian Michael Johnson has said of his fellow runner, “Lopez Lomong’s story is one of true inspiration. His life is a story of courage, hard work, never giving up, and having hope where there is hopelessness all around. Lopez is a true role model.”
In keeping with that description, Lomong is now working hard to provide that same hope to others in his land of birth. His greatest desire is to spread the word about what is happening in Sudan and to build a community center to give hope and opportunities to people who started out just like him.
To help achieve that goal, he started the Lopez Lomong Foundation, which partners with 4 South Sudan and World Vision to provide water, healthcare, education, and nutrition to the people of South Sudan.
The Olympic track in London is a far cry from the dusty plain in Africa where Lomong got his start. He is a vivid reminder of just how far one can come when determined to change their course. He is living not only the American dream, but also the Olympic dream, and in fact, the Human dream.
For more information on Lomong and how to make a difference in Sudan, visit www.lopezlomong.com.