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Lopez Lomong’s Incredible Odyssey

A very good reason to watch the upcoming Olympics.

By 7.26.12

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Running for My Life: One Lost Boy's Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games 
By Lopez Lomong with Mark Tabb
(Thomas Nelson, 230 pages, $24.99)

Two years ago on a flight from Denver to Des Moines my wife, Jan, had the good fortune of sitting next to a truly remarkable young man. His name is Lopez Lomong and he was on his way to compete in the Drake Relays, one of the premier track and field competitions held annually at Drake University in Des Moines.

Jan was on her way to spend a few days with our daughter who was in her final year of Veterinary School at Iowa State University. When Jan called me that evening she was still feeling the effects of her two hour conversion with Mr. Lomong. She said, "On the plane today I met the most amazing and inspirational person I've ever met."

The remarkable story she heard from Lopez Lomong is now a book titled Running for My Life: One Lost Boy's Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games. I strongly recommend you read his book and then watch him compete in the London Olympics. He will be running the 5,000 meters for the USA. It will be his second Olympics. At the Beijing Olympics he competed in the 1,500 meter run. His book will have you laughing, crying, and shaking your head in amazement. Lopez Lomong's odyssey from childhood to the present is a tale for the ages.

His story begins in South Sudan. Sudanese rebels burst into the village's Sunday worship services and kidnapped all of the children, both girls and boys. All the children were jammed into a truck: "A green canopy covered the top and sides of the truck bed, so I could not see out. Suddenly the tailgate slammed shut and the truck lurched forward. I did not know it at the time, but my childhood had just ended. I was six years old."

What happened to Lomong has happened to thousands of other children in Africa. They are referred to as "the lost boys." This is not just man's inhumanity to man, it is man's inhumanity to children.

There are many pivotal and improbable moments in Lomong's story. One is seeing a few minutes of the Atlanta Olympics on a television a few miles from his refugee camp. The event and award ceremony he saw was Michael Johnson winning the 400 meter run during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. It was the first time Lomong became aware that running could be a sport. Afterwards Lomong walked back to the refugee camp:

I walked along in the night, staring up at the night sky. The image of Michael Johnson standing on that platform, the letters USA across his chest, weeping openly and without shame, flashed through my head. For a man to react to winning a race in such a manner told me that this had been more than a race. Those letters on his chest and the flag he carried around the track had to be the key. Clearly he was not just running for himself. The gold medal by itself was not enough to bring a real man to tears. No this man, this man with skin like mine, ran for something bigger than himself. That had to be the reason why he wept.… I now had a dream that would change the course of my life: I would be an Olympian.

Moreover, I wanted to run with those same three letters across my chest: USA.

Other than the fact that it came true, his dream was insanely improbable.

Lopez Lomong's story is a lesson for the rest of us in many ways. This book will give you a new and deeper appreciation for the blessings you have. As a reader comment on Amazon put it, "Read this book and try to feel sorry for yourself." If your patriotism needs recharging, this book will do it for you. Seeing the world through Lomong's eyes will change the way you see it through your own. You will not soon forget this book.

It will give you a new appreciation for the importance of family, and not in the narrow sense of the term. Lopez describes numerous times when people around him treated him like family and how he would not have survived and succeeded without them. Lomong now has two sets of loving and devoted parents, an African set and an American set. Lomong has a talent for conveying his feelings and emotions. He is honest and self-effacing. Reading his words will make you feel that you know him well. He has a total lack of bitterness. His optimism and positive attitude are infectious.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics Lomong was chosen by his teammates to be the flag bearer for the U.S. delegation at the opening ceremonies. Characteristically, he said he didn't deserve it and tried to decline the honor. His teammates told him he best represented what the Olympics are all about. They didn't take no for an answer.

The proceeds for his book go to a charity he has established: 4 South Sudan. The four purposes of the foundation are providing clean water, access to education, better farming tools and methods, and basic medicines for people in South Sudan.

God bless you, Lopez Lopepe Lomong, and God speed to you. I hope I have the privilege of meeting you some day.

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