PORTLAND - Olympic runner Lopez Lomong moved to Lake Oswego, Oregon a year ago to train with new coaches and work out at the Nike track in Beaverton.
“I love the state, I love the city, especially Lake Oswego. It’s a little quiet and makes me a little bit concentrate on my training. And my focus, the ultimate goal is to make the Olympic team," he said.
Lomong is from the Sudan. He’s one of the so called “Lost Boys,” an estimated 20,000 who were kidnapped by rebel soldiers during a civil war. He was taken from his family at gun point while they were in church when he was six years old.
Three weeks later he and three friends escaped and ran all the way to Kenya where they settled into a refugee camp.
The boys began raising each other.
“We started learning from difficulties, to make difficulties positive ones, by kinda like getting everybody together," he said. "It’s like 'Hey, don't worry about the hunger right now, just need to do something else that will make us happy.'”
They struggled for food daily.
“We have rations from U.N. 'Oh! Thank you,' you know? With a big American flag on top of it. We say thank you to that,” Lomong said.
Eleven years ago, Catholic Charities brought Lomong to America. He lived with a host family in New York and nurtured a dream he'd seen back at the camp on a small black and white TV, running for the U.S.A. In the Olympics.
“I'm asking my coaches, even high school coach, you want me to run? I would like to go to Olympics. And he said 'Okay, I don’t know, but lets do something you know?'"
He ran as if his future depended on it, through high school and college and into the Olympic trials in Eugene in 2008. He qualified for the team in the 1500. And then it got even better.
“It makes me so proud. Basically, all my tears and all my sorrows, anything, all of my life came out to say this is the country I belong to. This is the flag I want to be part of," said Lomong.
The lost boy, now an American citizen, was given the honor of carrying the U.S. flag for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
“It was just so incredible, you know. It gave me the hope that United States is the land of everyone," he said.
He did not win a medal in 2008 but his celebrity helped him fund a trip back home to the Sudan.
“I was very, like, blessed to be able to come here and work very hard and get, you know, get the American dream, get my education just like that but now be able to give back to the people of southern Sudan,” said Lomong.
Now, he returns each year and has set up a foundation to help bring clean water, basic health care and human rights to the Sudan.
“People walk 10, 15 miles to go fetch the water, especially women. And then on the way to go fetch water they go through the other obstacles, they get raped along the way and like that. So it’s like bring tears to myself. Like this is something, I want to do something big,” Lomong said.
It’s been an amazing journey from the Lost Boy, to the Olympic athlete with a new country.
“When I put the USA clothing on myself I’m no longer Lopez. I'm an American. You know?” he said.
And now he hopes to take his life even farther, with the 2012 Olympics in London.
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