When you first meet an Olympic athlete it's hard not to be a little starstruck. When I met Tyson Gay at the 2008 Olympic Track & Field Trials it was a Big Deal. I was interested in the sport, for sure (uhm, duh, I was at the trials!). At the time I was coaching track. The 100 meter dash is always a Race To Watch, and it was exciting to see the best runners in America all together in one place. When he won the race it utterly took my breath away. It was one of the most awe-inspiring things I've ever seen a human being do.
And so when I met Lopez Lomong in 2011 before a Team World Vision team dinner for the Chicago Marathon I was excited, even though I didn't know that much about him. He was the flag bearer for the 2008 Olympic team in Beijing. Cool! He competed for the US Team in the 1500 that year, even though his specialty is the 800. I love middle distance runners! He was born in South Sudan. He was a friend to Team World Vision. I liked him already!
l to r: Our friend Kirsten, Lopez, and John
And then I heard him tell his story for the first time.
To say that it blew me away would be an understatement. Lopez's story completely crushed me and left me in a pile. I bawled my face off. In short, at age 6 Lopez was kidnapped from the Catholic mass he was attending with his family. His abductors planned to make him into a child soldier, but abandoned him and some other children when they realized he was too small to carry an AK-47 assault rifle. He and those kids were locked in a shed and left for dead. And then? They decided risk everything to run for it. Here he is telling it himself:
I thought about what I would do if my 6-year-old son was abducted at gunpoint and there was no one to help me find him. My hope and prayer every day would be that he would run. That he would find the courage to just run as fast and as hard as he could and escape. In my wildest dreams I would hope and pray that he would get away. That he would have a shot at life. And Lopez MADE IT. This is not to say that his life after he escaped from his captors was easy. For ten years he lived in a refugee camp, an orphan who battled hunger by running 18 miles a day. You read that right, EIGHTEEN MILES. He saw Michael Johnson on a small black-and-white television on the Olympic podium in 2000 and was inspired to become a runner. He became one of the Lost Boys of Sudan who was relocated to the United States in 2001. He was adopted at age 16 by a family in New York State and began his life all over again.
And now? Morgan Freeman has done a voice-over about him. RIGHTLY SO.
You guys? We are so proud of him. He is a wonderful, humble person who loves Jesus. He believes God has a purpose for his life. There is no one I have ever met who more embodies the scripture from Jeremiah 29:11 that says, "'For I know the plans I have for you,'” declares the Lord, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'"
In my estimation, there is no better person to represent our country at the Olympics.
Coaching our future Olympian to greatness!
Lopez has partnered with World Vision to begin a foundation to help children in his home country, called 4 South Sudan, who are suffering as he did. And yes, he went without clean water. He knows thirst and the struggle for sanitary water all too well. Lopez came to Los Angeles last January and spoke to our 13.1 teams and ran the half marathon with us too! Talk about an inspirational "pep talk" the night before you run a big race! Hoo buddy! That's a speech I won't soon forget!
And today? Lopez is representing the United States (along with Galen Rupp) in the Olympics in the 5,000 meter run. Please check your local listings, tune in and cheer for him during the prelims and hopefully during the finals on Saturday!! Keep him in your prayers. I know that this is not the race that defines his life (he did that at age 6!), but dang it would be so amazing for him to medal. If you'd like to support Lopez's efforts to help kids in South Sudan, you can donate to his foundation or buy one of these super amazing t-shirts.
It's too bad the orange tutu is not an approved part of the US Olympic Team uniform, don't you agree?
To celebrate and support our friend Lopez I've decided to give away a copy of the book he recently wrote about his life, called Running For My Life: One Lost Boy's Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games.
By all accounts, it's supposed to be amazing! I cannot wait to read it. To enter the contest, just drop a comment on this post and tell me the name of someone who inspires YOU or your favorite Olympic athlete. After the Olympics are over, I'll randomly select a winner through Random.org. And guess what!? If you win you can choose to receive the hard cover edition OR the Kindle edition!
Good luck Lopez! We are rooting for you!
Giveaway sponsored by inside dog.
UPDATE! Lopez qualified for the final and will race on Saturday!! YEAH!!