U.S. Olympic long-distance runner Lopez Lomong trotted down the aisle at Grace Community Church in Auburn, Washington, high-fiving cheering World Vision employees as the Olympic theme blared over the speakers.
He bounded up the stage toward moderator Steve Haas, who was interviewing him for World Vision’s annual Day of Prayer.
“Not bad, not bad, you did that very well,” Steve said.
“Oh man, you give me 90 seconds, but I think I’m a little late,” Lopez answered.
As one of the world’s premier long-distance runners, Lopez’s not late for much. Give him 90 seconds, and he’s in the closing stretch of an 800-meter run.
But he can be forgiven for being late, given the whirlwind tour he’s been on since the conclusion of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Since then, he’s toured the White House with other U.S. Olympians and shook hands with President Obama. His hometown of Tully, New York (population 2,700), feted him at the Community Day Fair. And he’s been speaking and touring since the release of his book, “Running for My Life.”
Out of the last two months, he’s been home two days.
“We’re still running,” he said at Day of Prayer on Monday. Each year on October 1, World Vision’s global offices close, and employees gather and dedicate the day to prayer.
At the London Olympics, Lopez placed tenth in the 5,000-meter race. But when measured against his background as one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” every time Lopez steps onto the track to race, it’s a win.
Haas took Lopez through his life chronicled in “Running for My Life” — being kidnapped as a 6-year-old; held prisoner in a camp with armed guards; escaped with three other boys (his angels, Lopez calls them) to Kenya; meager life in a refugee camp for 10 years; coming to the United States in 2001 as part of a resettlement program for thousands of lost boys.
He was adopted by Rob and Barb Rogers of Tully, New York, and settled into suburban America, where he marveled at hot and cold running water and indoor lighting.
As a 16-year-old, Lopez only spoke a smattering of English (his native tongue is Swahili and he simply answered “Yes” to everything), but was able to graduate from high school on time and in a few short years blossomed into a world-class athlete.
What powers Lopez in the months after the Olympics is his passion for running and even deeper passion to help the country that he was forced to leave after rebel soldiers literally tore him from his mother’s arms at a church service.
“I was given an opportunity; I was given a chance to tell my story,” Lopez said Monday. “It’s no longer about me. It’s about them. It’s about people going through all these things as we speak: the children who don’t have education, the kids who are dying every day…the poverty that people are going through right now.
“And clean water. Have you ever gone without clean water, or even water? And yet there’s people walking 15 to 20 miles to just fetch two gallons of clean water somewhere, and it’s not enough.”
Lopez will continue telling that story in various ways. For instance, he will be supporting Team World Vision this weekend at the Chicago Marathon.
“I have to speak up,” he said. “My story is their story.”
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Facts about Lopez Lomong
Resides: Lake Oswego, Oregon
Trains with: Nike Oregon Track Club, Portland
USA Championships: Two-time USA Outdoor 1,500-meter champion; 2012 USA indoor 3,000-meter runner-up; placed third in the 2008 Olympic trials in the 1,500-meter and 2012 Olympic trials in the 5,000-meter; 2007 NCAA outdoor champion in the 1,500- and 3,000-meter.
Olympic moment: Chosen to bear the U.S. flag at the 2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing.
Shining moment: Providing water to people in need and inspiring children in refugee camps to maximize their talent.
Favorite race: 1,500 meters
Diet: “Actually, anything that is there in front of me, I will eat it. I train so hard, I just burn everything.”
More information: 4southsudan.org
Read the rest of Lopez’ story on the World Vision Blog:
- Lopez Lomong runs for Team USA in the men’s 5,000-meter final
- Stand by your son: The story of Lopez Lomong’s mom
- Lopez Lomong: A day in the life of an Olympian
- Lopez Lomong runs for Team USA
- Lopez Lomong: “The fourth lap, help me God!”
- Lopez Lomong: September 11, the day I became an American
- Lopez Lomong’s childhood story of terror