Running for My Life: One Lost Boy's Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games

Running for My Life: One Lost Boy's Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games

Running for My Life: One Lost Boy's Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games

Running for My Life: One Lost Boy's Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games


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Running for My Life is not a story about Africa or track-and-field athletics. It is about outrunning the devil and achieving the impossible; it is about faith, diligence, and the desire to give back. It is the American dream come true and a stark reminder that saving one can help save thousands more.

In this heart-wrenching story, you’ll learn about

  • Lopez Lomong’s harrowing kidnapping at the age of six, becoming one of the Lost Boys of Sudan;
  • his survival in a prison refugee camp and his miraculous escape;
  • how he arrived in the U.S. through the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor program; and
  • Lomong’s journey from high-school track star to U.S. Olympic team captain.

Lopez Lomong chronicles his inspiring ascent from a barefoot lost boy of the Sudanese Civil War to a Nike-sponsored athlete on the U.S. Olympic Team. Though most of us fall somewhere between the catastrophic lows and dizzying highs of Lomong's incredible life, every reader will find in his story the human spark to pursue dreams that might seem unthinkable, even from circumstances that might appear hopeless.

"Lopez Lomong's story is one of true inspiration. His life is a story of courage, hard work, never giving up, and having hope where there is hopelessness all around. Lopez is a true role model." MICHAEL JOHNSON, Olympic Gold Medalist

"This true story of a Sudanese child refugee who became an Olympic star is powerful proof that God gives hope to the hopeless and shines a light in the darkest places. Don't be surprised if after reading this incredible tale, you find yourself mysteriously drawn to run alongside him." RICHARD STEARNS, president, World Vision US and author of The Hole in Our Gospel

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780718081447
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 08/02/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 93,148
Product dimensions: 5.47(w) x 8.38(h) x 0.73(d)

About the Author

Lopez Lomong was born in Kimotong, a small village in southern Sudan, in 1985. Taken by rebel soldiers from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army at age 6, Lomong embarked on the long journey from refugee camps to the world’s largest athletic stage—the Olympics. Founder of the Lopez Lomong Foundation, Lomong spends each day working to improve the lives of children in his homeland.

Mark Tabb has authored or coauthored more than thirty books, including the number one New York Times bestseller, Mistaken Identity.

Read an Excerpt


One Lost Boy's Journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2012 Joseph L. Lomong a/k/a Lopez Lomong
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59555-515-1

Chapter One


My eyes were closed in prayer when the trucks pulled up. I heard them before I saw them. When I looked up, I saw soldiers pouring out of the back of the trucks. They appeared nervous, as though they wanted to get this over with as quickly as possible. "everybody down! Now!" they shouted as they ran into the middle of the congregation. I knew our country was at war. About once a month my mother and father grabbed me and my brothers and sister and ran for shelter as bombs fell in the distance from airplanes that flew far overhead. But I had never seen a soldier until this bright, summer Sunday, and I had never expected to see soldiers invade an outdoor church service.

The soldiers continued running and shouting. Our priest tried to reason with them. "Please do not do this now," he said.

The leader of the soldiers ignored him. "We're taking the children!" he screamed.

I did not know what he meant by that. I would soon.

My parents dropped to the ground, pulling me down with them. I huddled close to my mother's side. She wrapped her arm so tightly around me that my ribs hurt. All around me people screamed and cried. I started crying too. My mother tried to calm me, but she was as frightened as I was.

Suddenly I felt a hand on my back. I looked up and saw a giant man standing over me. When you are a little boy, every adult looks like a giant. His gun was slung behind his back. A chain of bullets hung across his chest. My mother pleaded with him. "No, no, no! Don't take my boy!" The soldier did not reply. With one hand he yanked my mother's arm off me while picking me up with the other. He dragged me past the giant tree at the front of our church and toward the trucks. "Hurry up. Let's go!" he yelled. All around me, other soldiers herded boys and girls and teenagers toward the trucks, all the while yelling for everyone to speed up.

I turned around. My mother and father were off the ground, chasing after me. Tears ran down their faces. They were not alone. All across our church parents chased their children, weeping and wailing. "Please do not take our children," they begged. "Please, please, we will do anything you ask—just do not do this."

One especially giant soldier swung back around toward our crying parents. He waved his gun in the air and screamed, "One more step and we will open fire!" I could not see what happened next. I felt myself being picked up and thrown into the back of one of the trucks. I bounced off another boy and landed on the hot, dirty, metal truck bed. The truck was full of children from my church. A green canopy covered the top and sides of the truck bed, so I could not see out. Suddenly, the tailgate slammed shut and the truck lurched forward.

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

I was six years old.

* * *

The truck bounced down the road for three or four hours, but no one said anything to anyone else. I was too scared to start up a conversation. I guess everyone else was too. At first we all cried, but eventually that stopped. instead we rode along in silence, everyone wondering what was going to happen to us.

The metal truck bed burned my bare feet. I tried standing on the tops of someone else's feet to cool mine off, but he pushed me away. it was so hot inside that truck. The soldiers had tied the canopy down tight on every side to keep us from jumping out. unfortunately, he tied it so tight that no fresh air could squeeze through. The summer sun beat down on top of the truck, making it hotter and hotter in there. The light coming through the canopy gave everyone a green tint. Road dust seeped in through holes in the bed, which made it even harder to breathe.

Sweat poured down my face and stung my eyes. My clothes were soaked. The dirt in the bed of the truck turned to mud from all the sweat pouring off so many children crammed into that small space.

This was my first trip in a truck or any kind of car. in my village, everyone walked wherever we needed to go. everyone but me. I did not walk. I ran. My parents named me Lopepe, which in our language means "fast." As a little boy, I lived up to my name. I never did anything slow. When my mother sent me to get water, I raced down to the river with my five-liter tin can and ran back as fast as I could. When she needed salt, I ran to the neighbors' to borrow some and raced back so fast that it was almost as though she had the salt right there in our hut. even though I ran everywhere, I always imagined traveling in a car or truck would be even better. But sitting in the stifling heat in the back of the army truck, I dreamed of running back to my village and into my mother's arms.

Bouncing along in the truck, I noticed a couple of kids lying down. I don't know if they fell asleep or just passed out. either way, I knew I didn't want to lie down on the hot, dirty truck bed. it was not just the heat. I didn't want to spoil my Sunday best shorts and shirt my mother had put on me before we left our hut for church. I still did not fully grasp the fact that my life—the life of racing my dad to our farm and playing with my brothers and sister and going to church under the trees every Sunday—was over.

* * *

Eventually the truck's brakes squeaked loudly and we came to a stop. I did not know where we were. The back canopy flew open. finally, a breath of fresh air. Four or five soldiers jumped in. One grabbed a boy, threw something around his head, and then dropped him down out of the truck. Before my mind could process what happened to the boy, a pair of hands grabbed me. Everything went dark as the hands wrapped a blindfold tightly around my head. It was so tight I could feel my pulse throbbing in my temples.

All at once, the hands lifted me up and tossed me through the air. Another pair of hands caught me before I hit the ground. These hands then pulled up my right hand and shoved it against a shirt in front of me. I then felt a small hand on my back, which I knew had to be the hand of another boy. "Hold on to the kid in front of you and do not drop out of line!" someone shouted.

The line started to move. I did my best to hold onto the person in front of me. from behind I heard a soldier yell, "keep up," which was followed by a loud thwack and a yelp. Although I did not see it, I assume someone was smacked with the butt of a rifle for falling out of line. I tightened my grip on the shoulder in front of me and jogged to keep up. I did not want to be the next one to get hit.

Marching along I felt like one of my father's cows. When my father brought the cows in from grazing in the fields, I used to run alongside with a stick and help herd them into the pen. We had around two hundred cows, which made us very wealthy in our village. I didn't realize that we were actually quite poor. People with money in South Sudan sent their children to school in Kenya, far away from the civil war that started decades before I was born. Wealthy people did not have to worry about their children being kidnapped en masse and taken to God-knows-where. War is always far worse on the poor than the rich. Always.

I marched along blindfolded for what felt like a very long time. in truth we probably walked around fifty meters. Distances always seem longer when you cannot see where you are going. The line stopped and then moved forward much more slowly. The shirt in front of me pulled away from my hand and was gone. I reached out, feeling for it so that I could stay in line. I did not want to be beaten. Suddenly, a hand yanked the blindfold off my eyes while another hand shoved me in the back.

I stumbled forward and blinked hard. I expected the sunlight to hurt my eyes, but it didn't. Looking around, I found myself inside a thatch-roofed, one-room hut crammed full of children and teenagers. The room was dark considering it was still afternoon. There were no windows and only one door. Some light came through the thatch overhead.

I moved quickly away from the door. The soldiers there kept shoving more and more children into the one-room hut, which was already quite full. The room was smaller than my living room today, yet there had to be nearly eighty of us crammed inside. As I looked around I noticed something else: all the girls were gone. When the soldiers invaded our church, they took all the boys and girls. now the girls were nowhere to be seen. I did not want to think about what might have happened to them.

All the boys in the hut wore the same dazed expression. no one looked familiar, even though most of those inside the room went to my church. Our church met in between several villages and served families from a wide area. Perhaps if I'd been older, I might have recognized someone, but when you are six, your life revolves primarily around your own family and those who live closest to you. At least it did for me.

Standing alone inside the crowded hut, all I could think about was my family. I wanted my mother and father to burst through the door and save me. I wanted to play with my two brothers, Abraham and John, and my sister, Grace. For some reason, on this particular Sunday, my brothers did not leave for church with me and my mom and dad. Abraham is two years older than me, while John and Grace are both younger. Abraham was going to bring John and Grace to a later service. I don't know why he decided to do that or why my parents let him. At this moment, I was glad they did. As much as I missed them and longed to see them, I was glad no one else in my family had been kidnapped by these soldiers. They might have left John and Grace because they were so young, but Abraham would be right here with me in this prison camp.

* * *

I tried to push those thoughts from my mind and concentrate on what was happening around me. The instinct to survive had already started to kick in. I did not feel hungry or thirsty even though I'd had nothing to eat or drink since I left home for church with my parents. Maybe I was in shock. I do not know. Food and water were the last things on my mind. Apparently they were the last things on the soldiers' minds as well, because they did not offer us any.

Now that my blindfold was off, I studied the soldiers at the door. When they had invaded my church, they all seemed like giants. not anymore. Several of them appeared to be around the same age as the oldest kidnapped boys. Their uniforms were tattered and worn-out, hardly uniforms at all. Most of the soldiers were barefoot.

"They're rebel soldiers," someone behind me said. I turned, thinking he was talking to me.

"How do you know?" someone else replied.

"Look at them. You can tell by their clothes," the first boy said. I now saw this first boy was not a boy at all. He was probably one of the older ones in the room. He may have been fourteen or fifteen.

"Then why did they take us? I thought the rebels were fighting for us," the second boy replied.

"They are," the first boy said.

"That doesn't make any sense," the second boy said. "If they are the good guys, why would they kidnap all of us boys?" That's what I wanted to know too.

"Don't you see?" said the first boy. "They didn't kidnap us. We've been recruited by force to become soldiers."

That explanation seemed to make perfect sense to these two boys, but it didn't to me. I could not lift a gun, much less shoot one. How could I become a soldier? none of this made any sense to me.

"Lopepe," someone said.

I looked up.

"you're Lopepe, aren't you? from Kimotong, right?"

I was almost too afraid to answer. The boy asking the questions appeared to be around thirteen or fourteen. Two others stood next to him.

"When I saw them shove you through the door, I thought that was you," the boy said. He introduced himself and his two friends to me. They may have told me their names, but I don't remember. Every other detail of that day is burned into my mind. I can see it like it was yesterday, but I cannot remember the names of these three boys.

"We're from Kimotong too. We know your family. You have an older brother named Abraham, right?"

"Yes," I said, still wondering who these boys were and what they wanted from me.

"Is he here too?"

"No. He and my other brother and sister were coming to a later church service. I was the only one taken."

"Don't worry," said the boy. "You stick close to us and you will be all right."

"Really?" I asked. "Why would you want to look out for me?"

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

I smiled for the first time that day. "Okay," I said. "Thank you."

For the first time since my nightmare began, I felt like I was not alone. God had sent three angels to watch over me. Soon they would do much, much more.

Chapter Two

My Stolen Life

I hardly slept that first night in the rebel prison camp. So many boys packed the hut that I barely had room to lie down. Nor did I have a mat on which to sleep like I did at home. Instead I and all the other boys lay down on the cold, hard ground wherever we could find an open space. And it was cold by African standards. Summer days in South Sudan are hot, but the nights are very cool. I blew into my hands to try to warm them up. When that didn't work, I put them in my armpits. At home I had a small blanket to cover up with. Not here.

I could not get warm. no one could. All around me boys shivered in the cold. Instinctively, I scooted over to a boy near me and put my arms around him. He hugged me back. Before long, everyone near me was pressed against everyone else. That wasn't hard to do since we were packed into that small space like sardines. In America, boys won't get that close to another boy, no matter how tight the space. 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.

* * *

As soon as it got dark, boys began crying for their families. Everyone cried at some point in the night. The conversations started around the same time. No one dared talk loudly. Instead we whispered as softly as we could. The same conversation took place all around the room. "Why do you think they took us? What's going to happen to us now? Will they ever let us go back home? Do you think we will ever see our families again?" The whispers grew louder and louder the longer we talked. When we got too loud, a guard stuck his head inside the door and screamed, "Shut up in there!" The room fell silent for a few minutes. The only sounds were the youngest boys sobbing in the dark. Before long the whispered conversations started again. The whispers grew louder and louder until the guard screamed at us again. This went on all night.

My stomach hurt from hunger. I did not feel like eating, but my stomach told me it wanted food. I also needed to go to the restroom, but I was too afraid to ask the guards at the door where the restrooms were located. We all were that first night. My nose told me some of the boys went ahead and took care of their business anyway right there inside the hut. I didn't need to go that badly.

I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. The way I saw it, if I were asleep, I would not think about being hungry or needing to go to the restroom. When I closed my eyes, my mind floated back to my family. I saw our mud hut with its thatched roof. The fireplace on which my mom cooked during the rainy season and which we used to keep warm on cold nights was in the center of the hut. My parents slept on one side of the fire, and my brothers and sister and I slept on the other. A storage room sat off to one side, with another storage area built up high. We kept all our food up there. Sometimes when it rained, the water seeped in from outside and made the floor wet. That's why we kept the food in a high place—plus, it made it harder for little boys to sneak a snack. I loved my home. I always felt safe there. Even at night I never felt afraid. I used to drift off to sleep listening to our cows rustling around outside.

I awoke to the sound of the cows talking among themselves. They sounded angry. How can cows talk? I wondered as I opened my eyes. Only then did I remember how far away I was from my mat and my fireplace and my cows and my family.

* * *

The door opened on the far side of the hut. "Eat," a soldier called out. He shoved a large plastic bucket into the hut and slammed the door. All the boys rushed over to the bucket and dug in. Everyone was pushing and shoving so much that I didn't know if I would be able to get close enough to it to find out what was inside. My three teenage friends, my three angels, found me. "Follow us, Lopepe," one said. He pushed his way through the crowd. I held onto him and followed behind.


Excerpted from RUNNING FOR MY LIFE by LOPEZ LOMONG MARK TABB Copyright © 2012 by Joseph L. Lomong a/k/a Lopez Lomong. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1 Taken! 1

2 My Stolen Life 9

3 Escaping with the Angels 19

4 Running Home 25

5 Kakuma 33

6 From Lopepe to Joseph 43

7 A New Dream 51

8 Writing for My Life 59

9 No Good-Byes 69

10 "Welcome Home, Joseph" 79

11 The Promised Land 87

12 A Child Again 95

13 Two Dreams, One Goal 105

14 9-11 113

15 They're Alive? 121

16 "This Place Will Take You to the Olympics" 131

17 Running for Joy 139

18 Family Reunion 149

19 Back from the Grave 157

20 Running Down My Dream 167

21 Within Sight 179

22 "Thank You. America!" 187

23 The Highest Honor 195

24 Passing the Dream to My Brothers 207

25 The Greatest Moment! 215

Epilogue: Still Running for My Life 223

Acknowledgments 228

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