Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Running for my Life by Lopez Lomong

The American Olympic athletes of the 2008 Olympic Games could not have chosen a better representative to hold the American flag during the opening ceremonies than 1500 meter athlete Lopez Lomong. His story chronicled in the just released book Running for My Life: One Lost Boy's Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games is an inspiring story that explores both the highs and lows of living as a human being on planet earth. At the age of 6, Lopez, was plucked from his mother's arms at an outdoor church service by rebel soldiers and kidnapped along with many other children to be trained as child soldiers for the war in Sudan. Lopez made a daring escape weeks later with his three "angels" as he calls them and ran his way to the Kenyan border where he was placed in the Kakuma refuge camp high on the desert plains.

Lopez became, like many others, a boy without parents, a boy without a country, and a boy without a future.  Lopez and the other "lost boys of Sudan" lived a spartan existence in this camp of up to 50,000 refuges. Living on only one meal a day Lopez looked forward to two things: Tuesday trash day when the refugees might find some old food to eat amongst the trash and playing soccer. So many boys wanted to play soccer that the boys came up with a rule: before you played each day you had to run one lap around the Kakuma camp. It was 30 kilometers around the camp and Lopez would run the 18 miles and then would even skip getting a drink of water after his run so he could more quickly get to the soccer playing.

For ten years this was how Lopez and the other Lost Boys existed, until the USA started airlifting some of these refugees to America for resettlement in our country. My sister took in four Lost Boys from the Kakuma camp and I vividly recall meeting these boys in the extremely cold Boston weather of that December days after their arrival. The world was new and scary to them and full of wonderment. They thought they were shrinking as the cold air wrinkled their skin. Cars, escalators, running water and flushing toilets, and doors that swung on a hinge were all new experiences for these boys. I recall visiting that first time and after awhile wondering where they had gone to. I went down to their room and found them working on their new school homework. One boy was trying to make it through reading and understanding "A Raisin in the Sun." All that these boys wanted was a chance. A chance for an education and a chance to make a difference in the world and they were not going to waste time. They had their priorities straight. They had seen far too much to not know of the great opportunity they had just been presented with. Lopez's reaction to his new home and circumstances was similar.

When Lopez made his way to his new surrounding in Syracuse, New York he too was befuddled by the grandeur and the riches of his new mom and dad. He went from having so little to experiencing so much, but within days Lopez needed to center himself so he asked to go for a run of say about 30 kilometers. His new parents were startled and called up the local cross-country coach and Lopez was soon turned into a runner. His parents backed him 100% in whatever he did and also cemented in him the desire to get a college degree. Lopez started high school with a minimal amount of English words, but graduated and made his way to college and the running teams and eventually on to the 2008 Olympic team where he was chosen to be the American flag bearer. As I said there was no better choice of an athlete to depict what it means to be American.

Running for My Life: One Lost Boy's Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games is a wonderful story worth reading whether you are a runner or not. Lopez's story talks to the better nature of all people as he goes from lost boy to entertaining a president at the Olympic Games. The good news is that Lopez has made his second Olympic team and will be running the 5000 meters for America this summer in London. I do not want to give away too much of the book, but pay attention to a small handmade ring, goat and cow guts, a gimpy hamstring and a sudden ankle injury, Olympic champion Michael Johnson, and his three "angels". Lopez is doing more for others in his homeland of South Sudan. You can find more at his website here.

Other posts on Lopez Lomong:
Lopez Lomong's Incredible 5000 meter debut Awesome race and "incredible" finish. NPR referenced this blog post and my fourth grade students found this "incredible" too as that was a vocabulary word in our class that week!
Lopez Lomong: Everything is Possible
Recovering Children in Africa: Great Stories of Survival and Giving Back

I would also recommend reading War Child: A Child Soldier's Story by former Lost Boy, singer, and peace activist Emmanuel Jal. His story is a little more hard-hitting about the hardships encountered by these Sudanese children. I wrote more about Emmanuel Jal here.

Another wonderful book I read last week by my friend and teaching colleague here in Nashua is called Accepting the Challenge! This book tells about Scott's dedication to a couple of Burundi boys and their families after being relocated from the Kakuma refuge camp to resettlement in Nashua as high school students. It also tells about the boys' dedication to reaching for their goals of going to college. 

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