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From refugee to Olympic runner: the incredible story of Lopez Lomong

Lopez Lomong, Lopepe, was born in Kimotong, an African town in South Sudan. Together with his three brothers and his parents, he lived a peaceful and happy life. When he was not with his father in the field, he would go after his mother so she could give him any chores or he would play until the sun set, with his friends, in the forest. Everything changes on a Sunday...

A lost child from Sudan

The first part of the story takes place during the years of the second Sudanese civil war.


One Sunday, while attending mass with his family, they were attacked by a group of soldiers from the rebel army. At just 6 years old, Lopepe was taken from his parents. From that moment on he stopped being a child.

He remained captive in a barracks for 3 weeks. The conditions were extreme: they ate grains with sand, they crowded together to alleviate the cold, they had no light... Needless to say, the emotional strength we need to survive a situation like that. Lopepe took refuge in his thoughts, letting his imagination take him to his family. But he soon realized that if he spent too much time thinking about home, all he wanted to do was cry and he would end up in that sadness. Every morning there was a child who didn't wake up. Instead of remaining motionless, contemplating that horror, Lopepe distracted himself as best he could. The need to be alive and the survival instinct were his allies.

Such a small child shows us the value of hope and strength.

In the countryside he met 3 boys from his same town, his three angels, how he called them. Those three older boys took care of him and saved his life. They were aware of the alternatives: die or become child soldiers.

They planned their escape and one night they escaped. Leaving the field was not an easy task, and even after overcoming the thorn fence, they still had three days ahead of them running through the African savanna. They ran barefoot, with almost no hours to rest. On the third day they arrived at the border with Kenya. There a group of soldiers took care of them. They took López to a UNHCR refugee camp in Kakuma, northeastern Kenya.

The three angels, whom Lopepe never saw again, saved his life. An example of how companionship, help and generosity are key values that teach us to overcome our fears with courage.

The years in Kakuma

This part of the story takes place during the 10 years that López remained in the Kakuma refugee camp. Values such as friendship, mutual care, the idea of family, become latent. Since his parents never came to look for him, he got the idea that they had died.


Kakuma was a city inhabited by refugees living in tents. The largest group was made up of children like López, separated from their families due to the war. Together with the kids from the same store he formed a family. They took care of the little ones, shared the little food they had access to, took care of each other and distributed tasks. They were responsible for some action, that also helped them stay alive. The only recreational activity that served as a distraction was playing soccer. In order to play there was a rule: run 30 km before the game. López ran them happily, he loved running, the only thing he wanted was to turn around as quickly as possible to come back and start playing. I ran as therapy.

They had the opportunity to watch the 2000 Olympics on a neighboring farm. When he saw professional athlete Michael Johnson compete, he felt that this would be his destiny. López stood out as a runner and began to dream of becoming an Olympic athlete.

Two months later, the great news reached the refugee camp. An American organization wanted to take care of 3,500 children and take them to the United States where they would live with a host family. The only requirement? Write an essay in English telling your story. Helped by his friends, his family from the countryside, they wrote as best they could a text in English. The friendship between children and adolescents is an essential value, expand the information in these articles.< /span> That letter meant the passport to the promised land and it was a joint project.

In parallel, the project known as “Lost Boys of Sudan” moved the Rogers, a family from Syracuse, New York. Rob Rogers echoed this story as he entered a church. When Barbara attended the first information meeting she didn't think twice, she filled out all the necessary forms to become a host family.


Life offered López a new opportunity, he would go to live in the United States.

A new family

This is the story of López Lomong but also that of his parents Bárbara and Rob Rogers, a North American family who, driven by the desire to help, to act from generosity and love, adopted several boys like López with the aim of giving them a new opportunity.


At the age of 16, in 2001, López arrived in the United States. Although ten years had passed since his parents separated, thanks to the Rogers, he would be a real boy again. After a very long trip he was received with kisses and hugs. 


He was adapting to a new world. Compared to the Kakuma camp, the United States was nothing less than paradise. He continued doing the activity he liked most: Running. His natural talent and athletic abilities stood out from the rest. He won everything and became one of the best middle distance runners in the United States.

After high school, the only thing his American family asked of him was to have a university degree. With a lot of effort and the support of his family he was able to get a scholarship to university. Thanks to some good coaches who knew how to see the potential he had, he continued competing in athletics events and after a lot of preparation, he could finally become a professional athlete.

Another event, perhaps one of the most exciting, was the reunion with his biological parents. One day he received a call. His mother, whom he had presumed dead, went to look for him in the refugee camp and was now contacting him.

López flew back to Africa. Joy and joy took over their village, turning each day into a celebration of life. The reunion would reinforce Lopez Lomong's real objective: dedicate himself to helping the people of his country while running.


With very good marks in the Trials, he became part of the American Olympic team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. And, not only that, he was chosen by all his teammates to carry the American flag at the Olympic opening ceremony.

Since then he hasn't stopped running. He participated in the 2012 London Olympic Games, and the 2019 Doha World Cup. However, the greatest achievement for López was graduating from university in 2011. – A gold medal in London would not have made me so happy… Running to live, pag.284 

More than a dream come true

This story of improvement, new opportunities and dreams fulfilled, is not free of gratitude and social commitment. López made a promise to himself of effort and improvement to achieve the greater goal of helping his African community.


Currently, Lomong has created the Lopez Lomong Foundation whose main reason is to cover four basic needs in Sudan: clean water, nutrition, education and health care. He also collaborates with WORLD VISION on the Spark a Brighter Future project. A project that consists of providing schools in South Sudan with digital tools for education and connectivity.


In addition, he wrote the book: Running to Live, telling his testimony, whose reading we highly recommend. A true example of strength, resilience, generosity, optimism and desire to live in the face of tremendously adverse situations... endless values.


Adversity is part of our daily lives. Sometimes it is brutal, as is the case with Lomong, but whatever the circumstances, the idea is to try to reverse that adversity, take advantage of it. her, learning, increasing resilience and values (strength, courage, perseverance, support, compassion, solidarity, effort, purpose, communication).


Lopepe's story shows us the importance of instilling principles and values in children from an early age. It is the best gift we can give them.


You can read this story to the little ones or even the book with the older ones. It will surprise you.


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