Sunday, July 28, 2019
When I first met co-blogger Haskell Murray at SEALSB, we talked about running. Last month, he shared stories of inspirational runners embodying toughness, self-discipline, humility, and perseverance. I loved his post. Yesterday at a family gathering, my sister ribbed me for telling everyone and anyone who would listen about one of the most inspirational books I’ve ever read: Running for My Life: One Lost Boy's Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games. While running this morning with a friend, I found myself proving her point. And when I saw that three days ago, Another chapter in the amazing life story of the Bowerman Track Club’s Lopez Lomong had been written, I decided it was my turn to share with BLPB readers about one of the runners who most inspires me.
As a six-year-old, now two-time U.S. Olympian Lopez Lomong was taken from his mother’s arms by soldiers during a church service in Sudan. After several weeks, he and three older boys he calls his “angels” escaped from a rebel prison camp and ran towards what they thought was their village, Kimotong. Instead, they were running towards Kenya, where they encountered border guards who took the boys to the UN refugee camp, Kakuma. This would be the six-year-old’s home for the next ten years.
During the hardships of those years, soccer became a favorite activity and distraction. Though having an actual soccer ball was a rarity, having too many soccer players on the field was not. Consequently, the older boys solved this problem by making up a rule that one had to run Kakuma’s perimeter – a mere 30 kilometers or 18 miles – each day before being allowed on the field to play. The toughness, self-discipline, and perseverance Lomong practiced in these daily runs and during those difficult years helped develop the toughness, self-discipline, and perseverance needed by world-class athletes.
At sixteen, Lomong learned of a program that would give 3500 boys living in Kakuma the opportunity to move to the U.S. However, applicants had to write their story in English, a language Lomong hardly knew. His response: “I won’t let a little thing like that get in my way.” (p.61) This inspirational attitude - whether about running 18 miles, writing a letter in a barely known language, or a plethora of equally challenging circumstances – has been a constant in Lomong’s amazing life story.
As my sister would tell you, I could go on much more about Running for My Life and the inspiration it has provided to me. However, I’d love for BLPB readers to read the book themselves (or at least watch a YouTube clip). I’ll additionally share that Lomong was: among the 3500 boys selected; taken in by host-parents, Rob and Barbara Rogers, who lived in upstate New York, and would eventually host several additional youths from Sudan; the flag bearer for the U.S. delegation during his first Olympic games in 2008; and, a fall 2011 graduate of the W.A. Franke School of Business at Northern Arizona University.
Last summer after battling several years of injuries, Lomong’s characteristic perseverance, self-discipline, and grit once again paid off when he made History by Becoming First American to Win 1,500 and 10,000m Titles. And as I shared in the first paragraph of this post, he’s been on a roll ever since!
Lomong’s website mentions the words “excellence, sacrifice, dedication.” It’s perhaps another way of stating the qualities of Haskell’s inspirational runners. As impressive as his running, is Lomong's humility in seemingly seeing one of his most important responsibilities as also using his opportunities, talents, and success to promote the development of others through the 4 South Sudan project, whose mission is to Provide Clean Water, Education, Health Care, and Nutrition to the world's most vulnerable people in South Sudan. Lomong aspires to run in his third Olympics next summer. I’ll be rooting for him every step of the way!