I could not put the book down and this surprised me. I figured I’d read a couple of short chapters a night, becoming inspired as the London Olympics are approaching. But that plan lasted one night. By the time Sunday rolled around, I couldn’t wait to finish my bike ride to get back to my front porch to finish reading the autobiography of Lopez Lomong.
His book “Running for My Life” was released this month, just in time for his second appearance in track and field at the Olympics. It’s a compelling read and an inspirational story. And one that will stay with me for some time.
Lomong is one of the lost boys from South Sudan. He was taken by rebel soliders at the age of 6 while that country went through a prolonged and brutal civil war. He escaped the camp by running for three straight days with three friends. He then spent the next 10 years at a Kenyan refugee camp before a relief program gave him the opportunity to come to the United States. He ended up with a foster family in Syracuse and while he fancied himself a soccer player, his talent for running quickly found him on the cross country team, winning local, regional and state championships. That begat a chance to run at Northern Arizona University which begat a pro contract which begat him on the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team as America’s flag bearer during the Opening Ceremonies.
The synopsis of his story is compelling enough, but the details wrap around you. Consider that in the refugee camp he ran a 30K everyday as part of a game to see who could start playing soccer first. That’s an 18-mile warmup to a day of soccer! Lomong was first introduced to the Olympics when some of his friends from the refugee camp went to a nearby farmer’s house to watch the Games on a black-and-white TV operated by a car battery. It was then, Lomong saw Michael Johnson win the 400 meters, tears streaming down his face as they played The Star-Spangeld Banner. Lomong was enthralled and immediately knew he wanted to be in the Olympics with “USA” across his chest someday. In 2007 he was eligible to become a US citizen. In 2008, he competed in the 1500 meters in Beijing.
Dreams do come true.
“The thing about dreams, though, is they usually sound crazy to everyone but you,” Lomong wrote. “All it takes is one other person to buy into them and keep you going.”
Lomong had those other people along the way in his journey in America. His ability to appreciate opportunity came from his disposition:
“All the complaining in the world will not make your life any better. Instead, you must choose to make the best of whatever the situation in which you find yourself.”
As the book unfolds, Lomong writes much about his faith in God and his commitment to making the most of the opportunities that come his way. Running may be his “job” these days, but it’s filled with joy and possibility. He already ran for his life, back when he was Sudan trying to survive, first from the rebel prison then in the refugee camp. Now, he runs for joy. He runs because it gives him a platform from which to tell his story so that the lost boys and girls don’t become forgotten. To that end, he created the foundation “4 South Sudan” with the goal of bringing clean water, health care, education and nutrition to the South Sudanese.
But here’s the thing about reading Lomong’s story — it fired me up. It’s not about where you came from. Or what life throws your way. Or even about your talent. It’s about surrendering yourself to the situation in front of you. It’s about holding on to your dream. It’s about keeping steady even through failures and setbacks. It’s about trusting that where you are is exactly where you are supposed to be. And that you’re going to places you never quite imagined possible.