This is an amazing and heartwarming story about a Sudanese ‘lost boy’ who escaped death, was saved by Catholic Charities, fulfilled his dream of becoming an American citizen and is now representing America on the Olympic track team. Lopez Lomong ran to save his life one night when he was just a boy. And now he’s running to represent the country he loves and to thank his foster parents and the Catholic Charities workers who helped save him.
It’s not likely the pressure of the Olympics will get to Lopez Lomong.
He has, after all, visited his own grave.
Seventeen years ago, when Lomong was 6, Sudanese rebels snatched him from a church. His parents presumed their second son was dead until they were reunited in December.
Then, together, they visited the Catholic cemetery in their village of Kimotong.
“They’d made a funeral for me,” Lomong said. “They had this pile of stones and things like that. They’d buried some of my childhood stuff. Symbols. A necklace. Other things from me.”
Happily, they disassembled the pile and dug up the artefacts.
The 23-year-old runner is competing for the United States in the 1,500-meter run in Beijing. “I’m just like any American now, with my rights,” he said. “I can compete for the country I want to compete for. Now, I’m not like one of the lost boys. I’m an American.”
Lamong’s story starts in Church.
Lomong was in church praying that morning in 1991 when the soldiers rushed in and his nightmare began.
“They wanted all the kids to go out with them,” he recalled. “They grabbed me from my family. They put us in a truck, about 50 of us, and we just drove. We didn’t know where we were going.”
They were going to the soldiers’ camp where in time the youngsters, like so many other “lost boys of Sudan,” would be transformed into the child soldiers who were so prevalent in Sudan’s brutal civil war.
Lomong was luckier than most. Three older boys befriended him. Less than a month after his arrival, they escaped.
“We cut a hole in the fence, and we kept running and running,” Lomong said. “We didn’t know where we were going, but my friends kept telling me I was going to see my mom. I was excited. They were only 14 or 15 years old, but they carried me on their backs.”
The children made their way to a Kenyan refugee camp where he would spend the next ten years of his life eating one meal a day of United Nations-supplied corn.
One night changed his life. People at the camp told him they were going to see the Olympics on television. He didn’t even know what the Olympics were but he walked five miles and paid 5 shillings to watch the games on a small black-and-white television. He watched in awe as Michael Johnson won the 400 meters at Sydney. “He ran so fast,” Lomong said. “I said that’s what I want to do.”
When Lomong was 16, a Catholic Charities official came to the refugee camp and said there were opportunities for 3,500 of the Lost Boys there to come to the United States. “The US was next to heaven,” Lomong said. Soon after, Lomong was placed with an American family where he began his track career.
Lomong says his dream after college is to represent the USA in international competition, his way to thank those who have helped him. They include Catholic refugees relief officials, foster parents Robert and Barbara Rogers and high school track and cross country coach Jim Paccia.
“I came to this country without expecting anything,” said Lomong. “Now I want to return the favor by being a good runner.”