When I was six years old, I held my mother’s hand while we gleefully smashed the tiny acorns that scattered the sidewalk in front of our church.
When Lopez Lomong was the same age, he was ripped from his mother’s tight grip, taken by soldiers from under the trees where his family and others from surrounding villages had been in prayer during a church service.
I was born in America. Lomong was born in southern Sudan (now South Sudan). To quote Robert Frost, “That has made all the difference.” It’s a difference I can’t begin to grasp.
Lomong is one of my Olympic heroes, representing the USA in two Olympics – in 2008 in Beijing where he also served as flag bearer in the opening ceremonies and again this past summer in London where he came in 10th in the 5,000 meter final. I feel blessed that I got to see him earn a spot on both the 2008 and 2012 teams, watching him race at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials in Eugene, Ore.
Lomong’s story is nothing short of amazing: from being abducted by soldiers in war-torn Sudan to living in a refugee camp in Kenya for 10 years to a journey to the United States where he would become a citizen and live out his own version of the American dream while never forgetting the other boys and girls left behind in Sudan.
Lomong has shared his life – its struggles and triumphs – in a moving memoir published last year, called Running for My Life. Never has a book title been so accurate. Running saved his life.
Lomong’s book was one of the Christmas presents I gave my husband, and I read it right after he did, knowing that I needed to keep the kleenex nearby. I was still unprepared for how the book would affect me emotionally.
I was moved by Lomong’s tenacity, his unflagging faith in God and the hard work ethic that has brought him to this point in his life where he can capture the essence of the American Dream. I don’t want to give too much of the book away, but while running saved Lomong’s life in many ways, the act of writing also changed Lomong’s life and was instrumental in bringing him to America.
To say that his writing this book will change lives isn’t an understatement. Lomong has teamed with World Vision to help create significant and meaningful change in the lives of the boys and girls living in South Sudan. I hope you’ll take some time to learn more about the foundation he has created: 4 South Sudan.
We are so blessed here in America, and when heroes like Lomong inspire us, I believe we have a duty to respond to his cry for help.
The Bible tells us:
“Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things.
They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.
Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim … but I discipline my
body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I
myself will not be disqualified.”
– 1 Corinthians 9:25-27
Lomong may pursue perishable wreaths and medals in the Olympic games, but he also runs for an imperishable wreath. He runs to proclaim his faith to all who are drawn to him because of his gift. And in his life’s work away from the track, Lomong will bring hope and a better life to others left behind, but not forgotten.
I’ll leave you with a few more of my favorite photos of Lomong from this past summer’s Olympic trials.