Sudan-born Lopez Lomong will return for his second Olympics with Team USA. He is one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan who was living in a refugee camp in Kenya. NBC tells his story of survival:
When Lomong was 6 years old, the second son in a line of six children born to a farmer in the village of Boya, Sudan was taken from his parents at gunpoint by the Janjaweed government militia while attending Catholic Mass. He was to be trained as a soldier, or starve to death. During three weeks of imprisonment, he ate once a day, a mixture of sorghum and sand.
Run for the border Three older boys, all around age 14, had discovered a hole in the fence surrounding the prison camp and decided to attempt and escape and to bring Lomong with them. "They told me, 'You're going home', even though they knew we weren't," Lomong said. "They said that so I would join them. They were trying to save my life." For three days Lomong and his friends ran toward safety in Kenya. When they reached the Kenyan border, the three teens were too old to be accepted into a refugee camp, were arrested and returned to Sudanese officials. Only Lomong was granted refuge. "Anything I do in life, I put those guys in front," says Lomong, who cannot recall their names and has no idea if they survived. "They were more than brothers to me."
Schooling sets him free Lomong spent 10 years living in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya, where he learned to write by drawing letters in the sand with his finger. But that rudimentary education was enough to help earn him liberation. "They told us that the U.S.A. wants to give 3,500 'Lost Boys' homes," Lomong said. "They said if you want to come to America, write an essay explaining why." For two nights Lomong and many of his friends worked in silence. "I remember it felt like taking a test," he said. "I just sat down, the whole of my mind emptied onto the paper. I wrote some of it in Swahili, I wasn't even aware of it." One month later, his essay was chosen by the Joint Volunteer Agency, and he was on his way to America.
He was fortunate enough to be adopted by Robert and Barbara Rogers, an American family in upstate New York and became a US citizen in 2007. His adjustment to life in America was profound – he had to learn to flush a toilet, turn on light switches and many other tasks we take for granted. His inspiring story led him to be selected in 2008 to be the flag bearer for Team USA.
Lomong competed in the 1500 meter run in Beijing, but has qualified in the 5000 meter event in London. He qualified for the Olympic team with a very fast time of 13 minutes, 24 seconds.
Lomong hasn’t forgotten his roots. According to NBC:
Since establishing himself in the United States, Lomong has not turned his back on his Sudanese heritage or his family back in Africa. In 2009, he began raising money for the reconstruction of the church from which he was kidnapped as a youngster. The Reconciliation Church situated just outside of Kimotong will have a 250-seat space for Roman Catholic services, a multipurpose hall for hosting classes and meetings, and an area for a storage and distribution center for relief food programs. He also began to lay the groundwork to bring his younger brothers, Peter and Alex to the United States. Both arrived in 2010 and attend Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia.
Good luck Lopez!