The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local news

September 13, 2013

No longer one of the ‘Lost Boys’

Lopez Lomong: From his kidnapping to the Olympics

ENID, Okla. — Lopez Lomong had a childhood fit for most nightmares, beginning when he was kidnapped and taken from his family at age 6.

Lomong came to America after escaping the fate of most Sudanese “Lost Boys,” and was able to achieve his dream when he represented the United States at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

He shared his story Friday at Northern Oklahoma College Enid during a lunch and presentation hosted by Wymer Brownlee.

Lomong asked the crowd of more than 100 people to remember how and what they felt when they were 6 years old. He then told them how different his life was at that age.

“A troop of soldiers stormed our church and ordered everyone to lay down,” he said. “My mom grabbed me so tight, with all the energy she had. So tight. One of the soldiers picked me up and lifted me off my mom. My days as a child completely ended then.”

He said the soldiers, of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, took all the children from the church, blindfolded them, walked them single file into the back of a canvas-covered truck and took them away.

“All I was remembering was I was just crying, crying and crying,” Lomong said. “We hear people beating people. We hear soldiers yelling. My body is just shaking. They put us in this prison.”

He said when he was able to look around, all the girls had been taken away and it was just boys. None of them had any idea where the girls were taken.

Eventually, a soldier opened the door where they are being kept and threw in a bowl of grain. However, it had been mixed with sand and only made the weaker children even more weak.

Lomong said there were no other boys from his village of Kimotong, but one boy recognized him from church. That boy and his two brothers watched over Lomong and became who he calls his “angels.”

“Three of my friends were strong enough to train, but I was the weak one and was left behind to wait for my death,” he said. “The AK-47 was taller than me. I was just trying to survive.”

His angels soon would lead Lomong’s salvation from the army camp.

“One day, they saw a hole in the fence and they came up to me and said, ‘We’re going to go see your mama soon,’” he said.

One night, which was an unusually dark night for Africa, the three told him it was time to escape. He said the three kept him in the middle of them so they could keep close watch.

Lomong described creeping through the camp, past the soldiers and even seeing the face of a particular soldier as he struck a match near his face to light a cigarette.

“We went through this hole in the fence and we started running. I was literally running for my life. We were running and running like someone was chasing us,” he said. “We ran three days and three nights. Along the way, there was some water for us. Those boys always keep me with them all the time.”

Lomong said he and his friends finally reached the boarder of Kenya, where they were taken into custody and later sent to a refugee camp.

The children slept 10 people to a tent and ate only one meal a day.

He said the children in the camp would play soccer, or run the 30-kilometer loop around the compound just to keep their minds off their hunger.

Lomong appeared in a church bulletin as one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. He soon was adopted by a couple from New York.

Making the move from Africa to the United States was a big adjustment, but it also was where Lomong’s biggest dream began.

“In 2000, I watched Michael Johnson run in the Olympics and I wanted to run the Olympics one day,” he said. “It was a big, big dream and I didn’t know how I was going to get there.”

Despite not knowing how he would reach his dream, Lomong said he knew God wanted him to run.

He joined the cross country team in high school, leading to his first race.

“The first race of my life in the U.S., my coach said, ‘I want you to run very, very fast in front of everybody,’ and I said ‘OK.’”

Lomong explained a person in a golf cart drove the course before the runners to show them the way, something he didn’t entirely understand.

“I knew the person driving the golf cart was part of the race, so I raced him,” he said.

Lomong passed the cart, but got off course and eventually took third in the race.

He said one of the best things about his mom was she always had a bottle of water and a Coke waiting for him at the finish line.

“She gave me a water bottle and then a Coke,” he said. “So then I wanted to run fast so I could go get a Coke.”

Lomong graduated from high school and attended Northern Arizona University, all the while heading toward his goal.

“Eight years later, I worked so hard. I signed a contract with Nike and I just wanted to represent this nation,” he said. “I made the Olympic team and flew to China.”

The U.S. athletes voted for Lomong to represent the country by carrying the flag at the opening ceremonies.

“I am no longer a Lost Boy,” he told the crowd. “I have a family, a country to represent and a flag to represent.”

Lomong shared the three things he often asks people to take with them when he speaks.

The first was to not be afraid to make mistakes. The second: You are not given opportunities, you make them. And the third, you have the ability and responsibility to make a difference.

Lomong has a foundation to help those in the Sudan, called the Lopez Lomong Foundation. Its mission has four pillars — to provide clean water, education, health care and nutrition to the most vulnerable people in Sudan.

Information about the foundation can be found at www.lopezlomong.com.

Lomong also has a book about his story, titled, “Running for My Life: One Lost Boy’s Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games.” It is available on Amazon.com.

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