Subtitle: The Lost Boys of Sudan, Mini Blog #1
Posted on March 10th, 2022
by Olivia Baker
For the 4th installment of Runners Who Read, we will be reading Running For My Life by Lopez Lomong. In this inspiring memoir, Lomong chronicles his journey from one of the Lost Boys of Sudan to the US Olympic Team. His story begins in South Sudan in the midst of Sudan's second civil war which took place from 1985-2005. Tensions between the primarily Islamic North Sudan which held the governmental majority and the melting pot of Christians, indigenous religions, and atheists of South Sudan who (though they lacked government representation) controlled many of the country's natural resources came to a boil when North Sudan attempted to take control of an oil field that straddled the border of both regions and declare all of Sudan to be an Islamic State. In response, the Southern People's Liberation Army rose up to reestablish an autonomous South Sudan and fighting commenced. As a result, many children were displaced, orphaned, abducted, or conscripted to war (link to citation for more info). The term "Lost Boys" refers to a group of over 20,000 South Sudanese boys (the war primarily took place in the South) who managed to flee to refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia, of which Lomong is one.
Aside from the fact that this book has been recommended to me by many people in the running community, I chose this book because Lopez Lomong has been one of my favorite runners to watch over the past decade and I think we can all learn something and be inspired by his faith, diligence, and endurance in the face of such extreme challenges in running and in life.
1. Why are you looking forward to reading and discussing this book with Runners Who Read this month?
Subtitle: The Wisdom of a Child, Mini Blog #2 (Chapters 1-8)
Running For My Life, Chapters 1-8
Posted on March 14th, 2022
By Olivia Baker
In the opening chapters of Running For My Life we learn about Lopez's tumultuous childhood and adolescence. We read about his kidnapping from church on a Sunday at just 6 years old by members of the rebel army, his escape with his three "angel" friends who guided him to a Kenyan refugee camp, and the 10 years he spent growing up at that camp called Kakuma. At the end of chapter 8, we find out that through an essay he submitted, he earned his way out of the refugee camp to the United States. In just these first few chapters, I've been encouraged by Lomong's faith, inspired by his resilience, but perhaps most of all, moved by his wisdom at such a young age.
At just 6 years old, Lomong recognizes the importance of keeping busy so as not to dwell on the circumstances, working hard in everything he did, and never losing hope. When he was crammed into a hut with the other kidnapped boys, he did his best to keep his small corner clean and tidy every day, grateful for the space and in need of something to keep his mind occupied. At the refugee camp, he sought out more and more responsibilities within his tent "family"—rationing out the food and taking care of the younger boys—and even worked on a farm just outside the camp to have the opportunity to earn money. He was always working hard and staying busy.
In some ways, ignorance was bliss. In his youth, he had no idea of the wealth that existed in other areas of the world, and this helped him stay focused on that which he did have. "As a small boy in a small village in a remote section of Sudan, I thought everyone in the world lived this way," (pg#29) he writes at one point. However, his drive to work hard and survive under any conditions always motivated him to carry on, even with no clear end in sight. In his own words "What is the point of such complaining…All the complaining in the world will not make your life any better. Instead, you must choose to make the best of whatever the situation in which you find yourself, even in a place like Kakuma." (pg#55-56). Running with no finish line in sight for years on end in that refugee camp, he keeps his eyes on surviving and bettering his life every day without losing hope because holding out hope was a matter of life and death.
1. What can we learn from Lomong's mindset as we face trials in our lives?
2. Lomong's first discovery of the Olympics came as he watched Michael Johnson win Olympic gold in the 400m at the 2000 Olympic Games from a remote farm just outside his refugee camp. Seeing someone with brown skin just like him compete in running, something he loved doing at the camp, inspired him to believe that he could go to the Olympics on day and motivated him to dream beyond the perimeter of the camp. In what ways has the Olympics inspired you?
3. What have you learned about life from children?
Subtitle: Gratitude, Mini-Blog #3
Running For My Life, Chapters 9-17
Posted on March 24th, 2022
By Olivia Baker
Through the middle chapters of Running For My Life, as we read about Lomong's transition to life in America and his formal introduction to competitive running, a word that came to mind over and over again is gratitude. I was constantly struck by the things about America that Lomong highlights as luxuries and reminded of aspects of life in the United States that people often take for granted. In the witty style of humor we've come to know from Lomong, he recounts getting a headache from all of the options available to him when visiting McDonald's for the first time and his difficulties figuring out how to use appliances that are connected to indoor plumbing like the shower and toilets. He writes of being given a bike, something only the rich people in the villages surrounding his refugee camp owned. In a more serious tone, he notes that living with his adoptive family, the Rogers', gave him at 16 years old an opportunity to live like a kid again and have his stolen childhood returned to him for a few years. In the midst of it all, Lomong expresses gratitude for the opportunities he's been afforded which spurs a drive to find ways to give back to his family of Lost Boys, many of whom were still stuck in Kakuma. Growing up in the States, it can be easy to take things for granted. These next few days, let's reflect on our everyday lives with a little greater focus on gratitude and let it spur generosity in our hearts.
1. What are some of the "simple" things in life you are most grateful for? What things about the running community do you appreciate most?
Subtitle: Nothing Is Impossible Mini Blog #4
Chapters 18-25 and Appendix
Posted on March 29th, 2022
By Olivia Baker
In the closing chapters of Running For My Life, we read about Lomong's development into an Olympic 1500m runner on the track, his academic journey to receiving his college degree, and the beginnings of his work to give back to his home community in South Sudan. By the end of the story, he is no longer just surviving, but thriving in his academic, athletic, and personal endeavors. It's hard not to be inspired by just how far Lomong has come. In reflection, there were two things about his story that encouraged me the most, Lomong's grit and determination to never view his goals as impossible, and the huge impact of the people around him.
We are reminded of just how remarkable his journey has been when he recounts finally achieving his goal of graduating from college. In that final chapter, he goes back through the entire journey from the killing fields of Sudan through writing with a stick in the dirt of Kakuma, graduating high school in America on time, and finally coming back every off season to finish his classes, to emphasize the point that anything is possible. In his words, "If Lopez Lomong can go from a rebel prison camp to college graduate, so can they [other lost boys and girls]. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that anything is possible. That's not just for me, but for anyone who is willing to work hard and let nothing stand in the way of reaching their dreams," (pg# 273). Whenever I start to think that my goals are impossible or out of reach, I'll think back on this story and be encouraged.
Another point that Lomong consistently discusses are the many doors that were opened for him throughout this journey that were not afforded to others because of the people he encountered along the way. From his three angels who guided him out of the rebel camp and the Roger family who monumentally changed the course of his life to the guys who helped him open his locker in high school and the teammate at Norfolk State who encouraged him to go to NAU, there were so many people who played roles of varying degrees in this story. Many of them probably don't even know of the impact that they had. These encounters make me think of a quote (from Spiderman: No Way Home no less) that says "Helping someone helps everyone,". Sometimes you'll never know the impact you can have on the trajectory of someone's life through the smallest of encounters and the further ripple effect that can have. Whether you are a person currently chasing a goal or someone with the opportunity to help someone else along their journey, remember that nothing is impossible and take advantage of that opportunity.
1. What is your most lofty goal?
2. In what ways were you inspired by Running For My Life?