Lomong chasing dreams — for others
Lopez Lomong still is running for freedom. He always will be. It’s different now, of course, than when he was one of the Lost Boys of the Sudan. He was kidnapped as a 6-year-old and “basically,’’ he said, “I was locked in prison to die.’’
You might remember his story. With the help of friends on the outside, he escaped and ran for three days and three nights to a refugee camp in Kenya for freedom. Fast forward to 2008, and he was the flag-bearer for the U.S. at the Beijing Olympics, where he ran the 5,000 meters as an American, “the country that gave me opportunity.’’
On Thursday at the U.S. Olympic trials, Lomong finished in third place in the 5,000 and made the U.S. team again. He’ll run in the London Olympics.
His brothers Peter, 15, and Alex, 14, were there Thursday in Eugene. It was the first time they had seen Lopez run in person.
“I’m running for them,’’ Lomong said. “This is reason why I am running is to see them grow and do well in school. To take care of everything that American people offer. I’m speechless.’’
That, he never is. Lomong is like the poster child for the American dream. Since telling his story to the world before the 2008 Olympics, he has continued to spread that dream. To his family, to Sudanese girls, to the world.
And he keeps running because it’s the best way to tell the story, to spread the word.
Since the Beijing Olympics, Lomong has graduated from college, brought two of his brothers to the U.S., started a charitable foundation for Sudanese children and written a book, “Running for My Life.’’ He has a book signing Friday in Eugene.
This run never ends. He is reaching beyond his dreams. But rather than stopping there, he wants others to get there, too.
“It’s not my story,’’ he said. “From the moment I carried the American flag, I said, `Hey, it’s not my story. There are a lot of kids out there going through the same things I went through.’
“They are still being kidnapped, still being trained as soldiers. I didn’t want my brothers to be kidnapped like I was. I wanted them to come to the United States.’’
Lopez says he “vividly’’ remembers being kidnapped in a church as a 6-year-old. He said boys in church were being taken and turned into soldiers, but that he was too young. So he wasn’t of much use.
Friends, he said, eventually told him that “Oh, we find a hole in the fence. You’re going to see your mama again.’ I was so excited. We didn’t want to wake anybody up, so we crawled and went through a hole in the fence, and started running and running and running. Three days, three nights.’’
After 10 years in a refugee camp in Kenya, he moved to the US thanks to Catholic Charities. Now he’s paying the favor forward.
Peter and Alex go to a military school in Virginia and live with foster parents that Lomong helped to arrange. Peter said that everything is different, from the food to the clothes to the paved roads and cleanliness.
He said that Lopez used to send his mother money from the US, and that’s how they lived. His father is a farmer. And Peter said that just before the 2008 Olympics, Lopez brought the family a 25-inch TV.
“Yes, I did,’’ Lopez said. “And I told them they had to watch me on it.
“Right after the Olympic Games, I flew to Kenya and did all the process. I brought them here in 2009. They don’t even know that there’s hope for them. I wanted to bring them to the United States, get the education they need.’’
Both boys have taken up running, and Lomong told them that they can break any running records they want, but those records will be broken someday. “But education, no one can take that from you. It’s in you.’’
Lomong also has set up a foundation, 4 South Sudan, which you can support by buying a T-shirt or making donations at LopezLomong.com. He says that just giving a kid a pen and paper is a start to a path they never could have imagined.
The foundation, he said, is for Sudanese kids, mostly girls. And he tells the story of girls walking 20 miles just to get clean water, with many of them being raped or murdered along the way.
He also talks about trying to teach the people there how to grow their own food. During his own childhood, he said, when he was hungry, he would look to the sky and hope the UN would drop something.
“It was tough,’’ he said. “We never had a book. We never had anything. We’d go outside and look at the stars, and ask someone to tell us a story about the stars. We’d eat one meal a day.’’
Lomong is a reminder of the things most of us take for granted. He cherishes those things. And now that he has them, he’s going to keep on running to bring them to as many people as he can.