I always enjoy watching an elite runner compete particularly if I am track side, up close and personal. Such was the case in Bozeman, Montana as I was officiating the Big Sky Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships, 2007. The runner I was watching did indeed win his races. All three of them; 800 meters, Mile and 3000 meters. He seemed to float his way around the track with ease. I watched the same form as he easily won the Big Sky Cross Country Conference Champion title later that fall held on the University of Montana golf course, Missoula, Montana. The runner? Lopez Lomong.
Lopez’s collegiate accomplishments while attending Northern Arizona University include; 2X National Champion; 1,500m, Outdoors, 3,000m., Indoors, (2007), NCAA All-American 5X, and 12-time Big Sky Conference individual champion. Wow.
His story did not start in Flagstaff, Arizona. Nor does it end there. Since his collegiate days competing for the Lumberjacks of NAU, Lopez has gone a tear of sorts. Most notably; 2x USA Olympian, Beijing and London. Many will remember him as the USA flag bearer at the opening ceremonies in China, 2008. I like to remember him for much more than that. And there lays the true message found in “Running For My Life” Joseph L. Lomong, a/k/a Lopez Lomong, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN 2012.
Imagine at six years of age dressing in your Sunday clothes and attending a worship service with your family. The first chapter of his book details what happens next. Rebel soldiers forcefully interrupt this church service and began to kidnap the young boys and girls in attendance. Lopez was no exception. Isolation in a remote location with poor food, water and literally no sanitation was what awaited the young boy.
The following weeks brought slim hope of being reunited with his family until an older boy begins to look after Lopez. Late one night Lopez is woken by this older boy, who along with two others begins the escape that would define character. Running for three days with nothing but the ragged clothes they fled with they stumble across the border of Sudan to Kenya. Lopez was now a “lost boy of Sudan”.
His book recounts with vivid imagery the ordeal of being stolen out of his mothers’ arms, literally running for his life, and living in a refugee camp before landing with an American family in New York. Days in the refugee camp included school lessons, soccer and yes running. And one very special night where Lopez walked five miles and paid to watch his first television program on a black and white set. Just happened to be night the Olympics were on. And someone named Michael Johnson was running. Michael Johnson’s emotional acceptance of his gold medal deeply impacted Lopez. Who would have ever imagined that just a few years later Lopez would be carrying our flag during the opening ceremonies, competing as a naturalized US citizen and wearing a jersey with USA across his chest?
The author’s ability to recount with detail the hardships he endured are beyond comprehension. Read this book and see if you aren’t challenged to complain less. Throughout his book he makes numerous references to God’s work in his life, his faith and his dependence on Him. Nothing short of a miracle.
Lopez has teamed up with World Vision to assist his foundation; 4 South Sudan. This foundation’s objective is to bring clean water, education, health care and nutrition to those living in South Sudan. Find out more at http://www.lopezlomong.com/lopez-lomong-foundation.html
I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for Lopez and his accomplishments to date. And it appears his fast days are not finished as he recently won the Wanamaker Mile at the 2013 Millrose Games in a new meet record of 3:51:21. Way to go Lopez. You bring inspiration!
If you like stories of perseverance mixed with a bit of humor and running performance and you will enjoy this book. I just hope I get to see him race again, live, up close and personal! Maybe in Eugene at the Prefontaine Classic. Maybe.
Up next – a book review that compiles some of the fastest human beings ever to train and race on this planet. Until then- enjoy the run!