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August 07, 2012

Lopez Lomong: From Running for His Life to an International Running Inspiration

By Molly Lao

This blog is part of the Olympics 2012 and Human Rights series.

Lopez Lomong: 27 years old, represents the United States in the Olympics. Events: 5000 meter race

Lopez Lomong once ran from war without a destination.  Now, as an American citizen, he is running for gold in the 5000-meter event at the 2012 Olympics.

From an early age, Lomong knew fear and pain. He grew up in Sudan. At the age of six, he was captured by soldiers during a Catholic mass and taken from his family. He lived with the militia and was dying of starvation and disease when his friends urged him to join them in a risky escape.  They fled the camp by crawling through a hole in the fence, and ran for three days before arriving at the Kenyan border where they sought refuge.  He lived in a refugee camp for the next 10 years.

Lomong was one of 27,000 Lost Boys of Sudan — boys displaced, orphaned, or country-less, during the long and brutal Second Sudanese Civil War.  He was also one of nearly 4,000 Sudanese who were granted the opportunity to resettle in the United States through a UN-U.S. partnership initiative. The United States has the biggest resettlement program, capable of resettling up to 76,000 refugees a year.  In 2007, Lomong became a U.S. citizen and made it to the Beijing Olympics the following year in the 1500 meter track event.

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Lomong calls the original run he made to save his own life his “race to freedom.”  Now he races as a symbol of freedom.  In 2008, the U.S. Olympic team captains voted Lomong to be the flag-bearer leading U.S. athletes into the Beijing Olympics.

Lomong is also an activist and was part of Team Darfur, a group that educated athletes about the unspeakable violence and increasingly dire humanitarian crisis in Darfur. Their goal goal is to leverage Sudanese-born athlete support to pressure the Sudanese regime into allowing UN peacekeeping forces into Darfur. He has also raised money to help rebuild the Kimotong Reconciliation Church—the church where he was abducted. That church will now act as a community shelter and provide food and clean water to those in need.

This week, he says he not only runs to represent the United States, but to teach others about his journey:  “I’m running to tell my story, to tell people where I came from, where I’m going… I’m running for the kids that have been left behind, especially the kids in South Sudan… I want to show them that a refugee kid that came from nothing can get to the podium.”

Lomong has inspired hope, and has captured the hearts of many people around the world, through both his athleticism and humanitarian activism.  Watch Lomong compete in the 5000m race beginning August 8.

Visit Lomong's website, for more information about his work in South Sudan.