Julius Achon runs to reflect, and to escape some of the darker moments in a life with more twists than the turns on a track.
It’s a life that began in northern Uganda, in the village of Awake. For 21 years the people there were afraid to sleep.
“You worry the war might come at night,” he says. “And wake you up, and then you have to run in the bush."
One night the war did come and Julius was kidnapped. He was forced to be a child soldier, by the man made famous in the Kony2012 video seen by tens of millions.
Joseph Kony's rebel army, the LRA, took Julius and 14 other boys from their village.
“I never thought I'd get out,” Julius says. “Each time anybody tried to escape, they would kill you."
When government planes came to fight the rebels, Julius and the others saw a chance to run.
“Nine of my friends shot dead; we were all crawling like monkeys,” he says. “Six of us made it home."
And Julius kept running, from his past into his unlikely future.
It was a seemingly impossible stretch for a boy with no shoes and no money to pay the fees at elementary school. But Julius heard that if he ran in track--and won--he might get a scholarship.
So he ran, without shoes, 42 miles to represent his country in a race.
"I found myself winning three events.That's what changed everything," he says.
Then at the Junior World Championships he got the attention of American coaches. He was recruited to run for George Mason University.
Julius left his family and came to the U.S., eventually setting the 800-meter NCAA track record. The record that still stands today, 16 years later.
He was chosen to represent Uganda at the Olympics, as its team captain in both 1996 and 2000.
"I didn't win Olympic gold medal,” he says. “But it prepared me to win gold medal as Humanitarian."
Around yet another curve he made a discovery that would begin his training for a new role: 11 children lying under a bus. They asked him for money
"I told them, ‘I do not have any money. Where are your parents?’” Julius remembers.
“They are all dead,” one of the children replied. Their parents had been killed by Kony's rebels. Julius offered to take them to his home.
“My dad saw me coming,” he said. “Dad stood up from his chair and I said, ‘Can we take care of these kids?’”
His father took them in and Julius promised to send money when he went back to the U.S. Julius started another race, to win a better life for the children of Uganda.
Over dinner Julius met Jim Fee, who was nearing retirement as a Portland executive in the medical device industry.
"Julius started telling his story. I started thinking, ‘Wow, this is remarkable,” Jim remembers. “There are child soldiers, there are Olympians, and there are humanitarians. But I am not sure you're going to find all three of them in one package."
And that's when Jim knew what he'd be doing in retirement: Helping Julius build the Achon Uganda Children's Fund.
"Realize, he has virtually nothing,” Jim says. “Yet he's helping these 11 kids. It was pretty easy for me to get on board."
Five trips to Uganda, and countless talks and fundraisers later, they now support 37 orphans. And the charity has built the first-ever medical clinic in Julius' village. Amid the huts of Awake, it's the only building of its kind for 42 miles.
The Kristina Clinic is named in memory of his mother. Shot by Kony's rebels, she was unable to get medical care and slowly bled to death over four days.
"If there was a medical clinic, my mother would not have died,” Julius says. “If there was a medical clinic, my niece would not have died with child."
After his mother's death he couldn't sleep or run. He dropped off of the 2004 Olympic team and left college a year short of his degree, all losses that still haunt him.
“I am happy to be in U.S. I still want to support people back home,” he says.
He lives in Beaverton now with his wife Grace--also from Uganda--and their 1-year-old son Jayden. They live modestly, eating only one meal a day. It's a way to remember his life in Uganda, and a way to save money so he can send what left back home.
He works part-time in the Nike employee store stocking shoes, which were a luxury he once did without.
For Julius the run never ends. After the Kristina Medical Clinic, he wants to bring his village an ambulance and a new school.
“It's in my heart, it's like a song. I really need to keep doing something good," he says
It’s something more priceless than an Olympic medal, for his son, for the people of Uganda. It’s an awakening, and a golden future.
"I want people to see is what one humble person can make a difference and change the world."
A concert to benefit AUCF will be held Friday evening. Click here for more details