Running for My Life: One Lost Boy’s Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games by Lopez Lomong

running for my life bookDate Finished: April 2018
Did I Like It? 10/10

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Lopez Lomong had a childhood just like all the ones you hear see in charity videos. In fairness, we never really understand what it’s like for an African child raised in a poor family based on a video tugging at our heart strings. This book will give you a much clearer picture and you’ll find yourself inspired by his story as he became an American Olympian carrying the flag. Incredible.

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What I Highlighted:

1. Taken!

I did not know it at the time, but my childhood had just ended. I was six years old.

War is always far worse on the poor than the rich. Always.

We’re from the same village, which makes us family.

God had sent three angels to watch over me. Soon they would do much, much more.

2. My Stolen Life

No one in that hut had a problem with snuggling against another boy and hugging him through the night. It was the only way to keep warm.

I loved my home. I always felt safe there.

None of us wanted to be beaten up by soldiers every time we had to go to the restroom.

Working made me very happy, especially working alongside my father on the farm.

I was very close to my mother and father. Every day I loved the love they poured out on me. I was a very happy boy.

Death was just a part of life in the prison camp. With time, I got used to it.

3. Escaping with the Angels

No one said it, but we all knew the guards would open fire on us if they found us trying to escape. We did not care.

However, like the squeaking door that fell silent on this night, I know God Himself was responsible for the guards not hearing us.

My friends didn’t even look up. They kept on running, carrying me with them.
We found a game trail and ran and ran and ran.

We did not run with our own strength but with strength from God. That is the only explanation.

Bleeding legs was a small price to pay to be free.

4. Running Home

I hadn’t had anything to drink in over a day, but I didn’t complain.

The fact that we found both food and water just when we needed it did not strike me as remarkable at the time.

The next night of running was a carbon copy of the one before and the one before that.

No matter how hard I tried, my legs refused to work.

5. Kakuma

Life in my village of Kimotong is nearly the same today as it was hundreds of years ago.

I knew my parents dreamed of sending me and my brothers and sister to school, but it was an impossible dream.

It didn’t take long for the boys in my tent to become my new family.

We all had chores to do, roles to play, and we all did them.

Yes, Tuesdays were the high point of our week, the one day we ate well—the day we ate garbage.

Instead, I looked at the scraps of food from the dump as a blessing.

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, even in a place like Kakuma.

Nearly every boy in Kakuma played soccer.

Make yourself the best goalkeeper in all of Kenya.

But when I ran, I was in control of my life. I ran for me.

The beatings motivated me to do my best. I did not enjoy getting smacked with a stick.

6. From Lopepe to Joseph

Once I made peace with the fact that I would never go home again, the next step came quite naturally.

In Kakuma soccer is not a game but a way of life.

The more responsibilities I took on, the more I wanted. I loved to work.

In my culture in Sudan, we handed down our most important stories by word of mouth when we did not have a written language. Learning this way came naturally for me.

This is who I am. I am Joseph, a follower of Jesus, trustworthy and hardworking. I am no longer a lost boy. I am a brand-new man.

7. A New Dream

Out on the soccer field, boys went on and on about it like they were some kind of experts on this thing called the Olympics.

No one had to understand what was going on to get excited about it. The Olympics gave us something new to talk about and broke up the monotony of the daily routine in Kakuma.

For me, this was about more than money. I needed to find something to do, something productive. I was sick of Tuesday trash day being the highlight of my life.

All those things looked so good when I didn’t have any money. But now that I did, they didn’t look quite as attractive.

All the while, Olympics buzz kept building in the camp. One day while playing soccer, a friend came up to me. “Do you want to go watch the Olympics with us tonight?” “Okay,” I said, unsure of what I was getting myself into. “Who’s going?”

And I really wanted to find out what made this thing called the Olympics so special that these boys would hand over their hard-earned money so quickly.

Watching people run on television was a revelation for me. Never before had I thought of running as a sport.

Running was my therapy, my release, my escape from the world around me.

All I knew was the camera focused primarily on one man, a man with skin the color of mine. Across his chest were three letters: USA. He was about to change my life.

The announcers said he’d just won the gold medal. I was not sure what that was. He took a flag from someone in the crowd, a flag with stars and stripes on it.

No, this man, this man with skin like mine, ran for something bigger than himself. That had to be why he wept.

In my culture, such a display was a sign of weakness.

I now had a dream that changed the course of my life: I would be an Olympian. Moreover, I wanted to run with those same three letters across my chest: USA. I wanted to be like Michael Johnson.

Not anymore. I knew a life existed for me beyond the perimeter of Kakuma.

8. Writing for My Life

The United States of America has decided to allow a limited number of you boys to leave Kakuma and go to America,” the priest announced one October Sunday less than two months after I watched Michael Johnson run in the Olympics.

But Americans, they were white just like the pictures of Jesus I’d seen. That’s why I thought Americans must be close to God, and America must be like heaven.

The more I wrote, the more details I remembered.

I did not write my story for the Americans. This essay was a prayer I wrote for God alone, a prayer I hoped He would answer.

It seems very funny to me now to think that I could not even read the essay I was writing. I had no idea what most of the English words meant, but I trusted my family.

9. No Good-Byes

When you live in a camp full of boys, everything becomes a competition.

The plane gathered speed, which surprised me. I thought this was a bus.

In Africa, family comes before everything else.

Little did I know that they were British, not American. I thought all white people were Americans.

In Africa, no one expects you to show up on time, anyway.

10. “Welcome Home, Joseph”

I’d never seen glass windows before either.

The drive changed when the plane turned one last time and slowed to a near stop.

food. It smelled good, but I knew I could wait until we arrived in America to eat. After all, how far away could America be?

The trip to America took longer than I ever expected.

By now, I was very hungry. Yet I still had no money. Without money, you cannot eat. Everyone knows that.

Like I said earlier, I thought the cold weather in the United States turned everyone white.

11. The Promised Land

Yes was the one word I knew I could use and never sound impolite.

I loved to talk, but not yet in English.

This bed was so soft that I found it difficult to get comfortable.

12. A Child Again

I wasn’t sure why he said this. I’d run barefoot every day of my life.

Only later did I learn that I’d spent my entire life in high elevations.

Running set me free from all my worries and cares.

To me, that was the ultimate. If you had your name on the back of a uniform, you had arrived.

Running was about the only thing familiar for me in America.

13. Two Dreams, One Goal

He had my attention. In Africa, “Coach” is a title of great honor.

I had no idea what a cross-country team was.

This was a hard decision. For ten years soccer had been more than a game to me. Back in the camp, it was a way of life. Running had never been more than a means to an end.

The sight of them convinced me that I had to win this race, not for myself, but for them. After all, I did not belong here. But now, with this race, I could show them I belonged.

I received a gold medal that I wore all the way home. Mom and Dad made a huge deal over it, and I let them. This was a very special moment for me.

Running for the USA was no longer a dream. It was my goal, and I would give all I had to reach it.

Mom never let me get down on myself.

Before long, running became more than therapy. The team became my closest friends.

Let me tell you, that book and that class opened up my eyes to see my Olympic goal as far bigger than sports.

m. Yes, I was going to compete in the Olympics, but I would do more than compete. I would use success as a runner to make a difference in the lives of others. To do that, I needed an education.

14. 9-11

I had never been proud to live in Sudan. I never knew it was possible to be proud of a country.

15. They’re Alive?

For me, I felt more than relieved to finally have my story out there. I felt at home.

Life was good. Very good. But life never stands still, even in the good times.

16. “This Place Will Take You to the Olympics”

How do you tell your desperate mother who had returned from the grave that she still may never see you again?

The thing about dreams, though, is they usually sound crazy to everyone but you. All it takes is one other person to buy into them to keep you going.

I knew I had the ability to make my dream come true, but it is one thing to believe in yourself. It is something else entirely to have friends believe in you as well.

17. Running for Joy

I liked the race because it requires more than pure speed or sheer endurance. You need both, plus you have to think all the way around the track for all four laps.

Some athletes complain about the heat, but I love it.

How could I not smile? Although this was the biggest race of my life up to this point, I did not run for my life.

Today I ran for pure, absolute joy.

My goal then, and now, is to build a hotel in South Sudan and help open the area to tourists.

My success as an athlete can also help make these things happen.

None of this made me feel greater pressure as I lined up for the 1,500 meter final. Pressure is trying to make a UN food allotment stretch for thirty days. Pressure is watching friends die of malaria and wondering who in the camp will be next. Pressure is writing an essay that will determine your entire future in a language you do not know. A footrace, even a championship race, did not make me feel pressure.

The rest of the field takes its cues from the leader.

Coach Hayes and that race finally convinced me that strategy means as much as speed.

The second lap is all about positioning yourself.

My experience at so many different distances made me believe in my kick even more.

three, the lap where you put yourself in position to strike.

Fatigue starts to build in the third lap.

Lap four is “Help me, God!”

I could hardly contain my excitement. Now I understood why Michael Johnson cried after winning the Olympic gold in his last race.

18. Family Reunion

Running gave me a platform to talk about South Sudan and the lost boys.

Still, a faint hope that my mother and father might someday come and find me never completely went away.

19. Back from the Grave

As much as I tried to savor the experience, I found myself torn between the excitement of the moment and the knowledge that I had a plane to catch.

This ceremony was a part of who I am and who I will always be, no matter what country I call home.

My life now came into focus. I had always wanted to use the platform my gifts gave me to make a difference in the lives of others, especially in my home country.

20. Running down My Dream

When I run, I feel set free from the world.

I liked the sound of that. I wanted my degree, which is what made this decision so difficult.

I’d only talked about the Olympics for six and a half years. My dream had never been so close. Mom and Dad believed in my dream even more than I did, if that were possible.

“I know I do. These athletes are different from any I’ve ever been around. Don’t get me wrong. We had a fantastic team at Northern Arizona, but there’s just something about a team whose sole focus is on something much bigger than themselves. Their purpose for being here transcends sports. You’ll see.”

When I run, I talk, so I confided in them.

She also became instrumental in helping me realize my dream of making a difference in Kimotong.

I ignored the pain and chose not to notice the blood running down my leg. Instead, when the race started a second time, I focused purely on my goal.

21. Within Sight

For me, making the Olympic team transcended sport. Running for the United States on sports’ biggest stage would give me a larger platform on which to raise awareness for Sudan and to make a difference for the people there.

That is the nature of Track and Field. Not everything goes according to plan.

If I ran my race the way I knew I could, I would be on my way to Beijing.

22. “Thank You, America!”

I went through the same routine before every race. Now that I was in the final, I saw no point in changing anything.

My eyes were open, but I felt like I was running in a dream.

I pushed my body harder than I had in any race in my life.

23. The Highest Honor

I doubted it would happen, but if I’ve learned anything in my life, it is to never doubt the impossible.

At first I felt nervous. But as I shared my story a peace came over me.

It felt good to share my passion to make a difference in the lives of others.

As soon as I stepped on the track, people around the world would hear my story. Once my story got out there, I knew God would also open doors for the bigger dreams I had for my people in Kimotong.

Through that ring, I told her that I did not make this journey alone.

24. Passing the Dream to My Brothers

“A good education means everything.”

I felt more like a proud dad than a brother.

25. The Greatest Moment!

Now, standing on the other side, I know nothing is impossible.

No one ever sponsored me, which meant I wrote my lessons in the dirt with a stick.

A wave of pure joy washed over me. The moment the wave hit my feet, I started dancing.

Winning a gold medal in London will not feel better than the weight of that folder in my hand.

Yet, Beijing represented an accomplishment that culminated in a single moment.

That’s not just true for me, but for anyone who is willing to work hard and let nothing stand in the way of reaching their dreams.

Epilogue: Still Running for My Life

They have done so well in school because they want to learn.

It doesn’t make much sense to reinvent the wheel when you can join forces with a group that already has a presence in the area.

Everywhere I go, running remains a key part of my life.