This article on future Olympian Lopez Lomong appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun on May 26, 2006
Kidnapped by the Sudanese army as a child, Lopez Lomong escaped the life of a child soldier the best way he knew how — with his feet
By Ed Odeven
Lopez Lomong runs because he’s a good runner. In tough times, he ran as a means of survival.
As a 6-year-old in Sudan, Lomong, the second-oldest child of five, was attending a church service with his parents in their small African village. The, as quickly as he now runs an 800-meter race, his life completely changed.
Lomong was abducted by Sudanese soldiers. He didn’t know what happened to his parents.
Years later he found out.
“They told me that we were taken away and they (the soldiers) actually left them alone because they needed child soldiers like us,” said Lomong, an NAU freshman who competes in the 800 at the NCAA West Region Outdoor Track and Field Championships this weekend (qualifying is this afternoon, the final round is Saturday).
“I was taken with the other kids somewhere in Sudan,” he recalled.
But he didn’t become a child soldier in the civil war that has devastated his country.
“Me and two of my friends, we escaped from that camp and we ended up in Kenya,” he said.
“Running … and running and running,” Lomong said.
Lomong, now 21, started living in a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, when he was 6.
He became one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, one of thousands who were displaced by the war in Sudan.
His family didn’t know of his whereabouts, and he didn’t know where his brothers, sisters and parents were or if they were alive.
When he was 16, Lomong arrived in the United States thanks to the efforts of Catholic Charities, an organization which has helped thousands of Lost Boys resettle in the United States.
Lomong settled in the small town of Tully, N.Y., which is located in the Syracuse metropolitan area.
“I was a minor when I came,” Lomong said. “So (Catholic Services) actually helped me out to find foster parents.”
Robert and Barbara Rogers, who had one child already grown up, were eager to have another youngster in the family.
“They are awesome people,” Lopez said, flashing a smile.
“They were giving me everything and teaching me everything, like switching on the lights and all those things. I didn’t know how to do ’em. … All the time, they helped me out (and to) adapt to a new culture.”
The Rogers’ outpouring of love and devotion included their support of his athletic pursuits.
“They were going to all my track meets in high school,” he said.
So they saw Lopez earn nine varsity letters in cross country and track and field. They saw him set several school records in cross country. They saw Lopez, a three-time team captain, win a New York state crown in the mile. And they saw him lead Tully High School to state titles in the 4×400-meter and 4×800-meter relays.
He also exhibited his running talents on the national stage, placing 20th at a Footlocker Nationals competition.
“Lopez was a dominant figure in all his races during his high-school career in the small town in upstate N.Y. where he went to school,” recalled Dr. Jack Daniels, the head distance running coach at NAU’s Center for High Altitude Training who saw Lomong compete in high school when he was the cross country/track coach at SUNY-Cortland, a small school near Tully.
“What always set Lopez apart from many runners was his ‘go-for-broke’ attitude which is typical of the good distance runners in Africa. I have others tell me they just go as hard as they can hang on for the win, great; if not, they will try again next time.”
Since enrolling at NAU last fall, Lomong has had a successful freshman season as a student-athlete. He placed 19th at the NCAA Pre-National Championships race in Indiana last October.
He captured Big Sky Conference indoor titles in the 800 and 1,500 in February and replicated that feat two weeks ago at the Big Sky outdoor meet, crossing the finish line in 1 minute, 48.86 seconds and 3:48.64.
This, of course, put a smile on Robert and Barbara Rogers’ faces.
They routinely monitor Lomong’s track career via the Internet.
Said Lomong: “They are so happy about that and they are calling me (on the phone): ‘Keep going.’ ”
Lumberjacks head coach J.W. Hardy expresses the same optimism about Lomong’s racing, but does so in a more detailed manner.
“I don’t really think he fully understands what he’s capable of doing,” Hardy said, “and I think that’s really been the progression for him throughout the season. As the season has gone on, I think he’s getting a better understanding of what it takes to be a top-level athlete.
“(Distance running) coach (John) Hayes is doing a great job of bringing him along and getting him to understand what it really takes to be a force at the national level. I think he’s got amazing talent, and there’s so much more that he has to offer.
“We’ve just got to kind of wait and see how far his training will take him this season.”
Lomong is confident he’ll win the 800 Saturday.
“Run smart, relaxed,” he said. “I’ve got more speed than anyone else in the Big Sky Conference …. and a lot of endurance. (With) about 300 or 200 (meters) to go, it’s my race.”
To prepare for regionals, Hayes has guided Lomong through a series of challenging speed-related workouts, focused on lots of drills for 300s and 600s.
It’s paid off.
“I think it’s working really, really well. I’m ready,” he said.
And if there’s one thing Hardy has learned about Lomong in the past season, it’s that he’s not afraid of hard work.
“He cane in and had to battle through learning English, getting through learning another language, dealing with the academics and this and that in an American high school and then to be able to move on,” Hardy said. “…It’s been a joy to see him go out and improve, academically and athletically. I think there’s a lot left in Lopez. We’ve seen a lot in one year, but there’s so much more that we could see out of this young man out of the next three years.”
And, remember, this season’s not over yet.
Lomong has plenty of motivation for today’s 800, a race in which he’s seeded No. 3 (1:48.86; USC’s Duane Solomon is first in 1:47.74).
“If I make it to nationals, they’ll be there at nationals,” he said of the Rogerses, his American family.
Three years ago, Lomong was adjusting to his new life in the United States. He was struggling to learn American English. Before coming here, he had a limited knowledge of British English.
“It’s been kind of a challenge, studying. … Yeah, I came a long way,” he said.
Sudan. Kenya. Upstate New York. Flagstaff.
These are all destinations on Lomong’s life map. And throughout his unforgettable journeys from East Africa to the Western U.S., Lomong has grown into a bona fide running standout — “I think his ability is limitless in the 1,500,” said Hayes, citing his exceptional combination of speed and endurance — he never stopped thinking about his roots: his beloved parents.
Three years ago, Lopez learned his parents, Rita Namana Lomong and Lomong Lomong were alive. A U.S. organization had located them, he said.
“Some friends in Africa called me up and said, ‘You mom’s around here.’ I was like, ‘Wow, what a thrill,’ ” he said. “And I just called them and we talked. And she was crying. And I was crying. There was a lot of things going on, and trying to figure it out was very hard.”
His family now resides in Thika, Kenya, a small town near the nation’s capital city, Nairobi. His four siblings are there, too.
This has given him some peace of mind. But this much is clear: They are always on his mind.
In every race, Lomong demonstrates this.
“When I step on the track, I’m doing it for the school and also representing them back home,” Lomong said. “Every time I come to that lap, something flies through my (mind) and I can see their picture and I go and do work, you know.”
Lomong plans to visit Kenya in the summer of 2007, the first time he’ll see his family in 16 years.
By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (Updated on July 3, 2017) — I’ve been building up the site with a variety of interviews in the past three years or so. Here are many of them in one place. Most of them were done exclusively for this site.
From A to Z…
*Sean Anthony (Hypo2 Sport founder, longtime behind-the-scenes guy for Olympic athletes)
TOKYO (March 16, 2014) — For a June 2003 article for the Arizona Daily Sun, steeplechase runner Anthony Famiglietti summed up his thoughts for me on multiple topics at once with the following articulate remarks:
“I don’t look up to or idolize many athletes,” said Famiglietti, then 24 and not yet a two-time Olympian. “Most of my heroes are artists or creative people in some way. They are people who push themselves and challenge every aspect of who they are.
“I don’t like to look at running as a sport. It’s more of an immense challenge, a metaphor for what life is in a microcosm. That’s why I think any person at any level can be successful at running if they learn how to discipline themselves and keep pushing (themselves) to new heights, new goals, new challenges every day of every week. It’s a great way to prepare for life in general.”
Nearly 11 years later, Famigiletti’s life has taken him to the Athens Olympics and the Beijing Olympics as a 3,000-meter steeplechase competitor. The native New Yorker got married, become a father, relocated to North Carolina, co-founded Reckless Running, a running apparel company, and also participated in road races, including the 2008 USA 5-km Road Championship (first place) and 2009 15-km Road Championshp (first place). His creative interests have included what he one called “avant-garde-abstract-electro-pop” and on another occasion as “electronic ambiance music” (for a self-produced CD “Starts The Party”) and painting (he once had an online gallery). And he’s a man of strong Christian faith, sharing a few of his favorite Bible verses, too.
I recently caught up with Famiglietti, whom I chatted with briefly in Beijing, after getting to know hm during several interviews in Flagstaff, Arizona, where he used to hold month-long training sessions twice a year. Our wide-ranging interview follows.
* * *
After competing in the Olympics twice and having a few years to reflect on those experiences in Athens and Beijing, what memories are most special to you from both of those trips?
In Athens I had struck my knee on a barrier and fallen during my heat of the steeplechase. I had seriously injured my knee during the race and fell from second position to last place. Somehow I found the will to stay on my feet and kept racing. Initially after the strike, my left leg became partially immobile and cramped, similar to hitting the “funny bone” nerve behind the elbow. When the numbness subsided just a few more meters into the race, the pain became very intense. Each time I had to jump and land on the knee it felt agonizing. I pushed through the last few laps in the race and I think I ended up in eighth position of about 13 runners. After the race I was devastated as I did not qualify for the final.
A few days later when I had healed a bit, I went out of the Olympic village to tour Athens in an effort to lift my spirits. I couldn’t walk very far, but I remember limping through the Acropolis and ancient ruins of the Parthenon on my own. I had stopped for a moment to take a self-portrait and was approached by a local who had recognized my Mohawk haircut. He was an older man who seemed like he worked nearby or on the grounds.
Apparently the local Greek television station had aired my race in its entirety. This man recognized me from the race and instantly grabbed my hands and smiled. I’ll never forget his smile and deep wrinkles on his sun-scorched face. He looked straight into my eyes and in very broken English said, “Yes, you get up!” He stood there and held onto both of my hands for a while. He had summed up my Olympic experience in four words.
His reaction as a native Greek abiding in the cultural birthplace of the Olympics (at the Acropolis of all places) helped me recognize what the Olympic Games are truly about. This man helped teach me that the Olympics are not about outperforming other athletes in a show of dominance and ability, they are about pushing one another to new heights of achievement, so that we might learn to overcome the greatest struggles and obstacles in life. Obstacles eventuality appear in all of our lives. The message I learned is to fight to stay on your feet and keep driving forward.
I often refer to Romans 5:3-5:5 as a guide when thinking about this experience.
Romans 5:3-5:5: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (King James Version)
Can you share some thoughts and details on the friendships you made with fellow Americans and other athletes and individuals – perhaps just someone you met working or watching the Olympics – from those two years?
I remember driving Lopez Lomong to team processing in Eugene at the 2008 Olympic trials. During the car ride over I suggested he consider running for flag bearer. In Beijing, when he received the honor to carry the flag, I was elated. I also remember meeting Presidents George Bush Sr and Jr. As I shook President George Bush Sr.’s hand I turned and said, “Mr. President, please meet our flag bearer Lopez Lomong.” That was one of my most memorable moments.
Currently, what is your primary athletic focus? What are you training for … and what goals have you set as a runner for 2014? What’s a normal week — a basic day-to-day rundown — for you in terms of training and also activities that you do tied into your business, civic and personal responsibilities?
I was planning to do a half marathon this winter. Unfortunately, after a three-month training buildup, I fell ill with an infection and had to go through two rounds of potent antibiotics. I had to stop training for about a month. So I had to abandon my half-marathon goals and start over. Because of the setback, I am currently working on 5k training and hope to race some competitive 5ks in mid to late Spring. My plan is to take up longer distances again later in the year after a long block of healthy running.
During the week I am with my 1-year old son for 12 hours a day on average. In that time I also assist in taking care of work obligations for Reckless Running. After dinner I lace up at about 8pm and go for a run or workout. This winter has mostly been treadmill sessions since we have had cold weather, ice and early darkness. I’ve done some fun things on the treadmill so far. I’ll do mostly longer interval sessions like mile repeats.
I actually ran a sub four-minute mile on the treadmill just a few weeks ago. I did it by running at 15.1 mph (3:58 pace) for four minutes. Cycling the legs over at that speed on a shaky treadmill is very challenging and dangerous. Without a 1% incline on the treadmill, that is the equivalent effort of about a 4:12 mile. I’ve been practicing with a 1.5% incline and may attempt a sub four-mile equivalent effort with incline soon.
Safety is my main concern with those treadmill speeds at the YMCA gym that I use with other patrons present. The gym is not a specialized training environment or anything. During a workout session I had noticed the treadmill at my YMCA hits 16 mph. The aim is just to have fun in what could be seen as a difficult or boring training environment. With overspeed training like this you can turn a disadvantage of poor weather into an advantage. You always need to be searching for the positive.
Of all the philosophies, training methods, slogans, etc. related to your approach to athletics, what best sums up your approach to running?
Truth. An “ideal” performance, where one is fully engrossed in and in sync with what they’re doing (such as described in flow psychology), can illicit deep levels of understanding and joy by opening oneself up to the truth that dwells in the experience of being alive. In that way, the process and athletic act itself becomes the aim as opposed to some end result, award or accolade. One would have no reason to cheat or take shortcuts when practicing this way.
If you pursue your life as an athlete with righteous intention, then these ideal moments come not only in races, but also in solo runs or personal workouts. The scripture passages below resonate for me regarding this way of living. My intention here is not to push my beliefs on anyone. I just enjoy highlighting things that have inspired me to fulfillment.
Galatians 5:7: “‘Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth.”
2nd Timothy 2:5: “And also if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”
As and artist, painter and entrepreneur, Reckless Running has helped you combine all of those interests and passions. When was your company first established? And what are some of its key milestones over the years?
We’ve been around for just a few years now, yet we’ve been fortunate to have had success right out of the gate. Our business model has been a study in sustainability and simplicity. We make apparel that fits great, feels great and looks great. Our designs are meant to help fulfill a need as well as inspire. I have a trove of ill-fitting championship racing jerseys that I’ve accrued over 14 years as a professional racer. I had no shortage of inspiration to make better racing gear at Reckless Running. Competing in the very first Reckless Running racing singlet was a great milestone for me personally. We’re very thankful for all of the amazing feedback we get from repeat customers. I personally enjoy seeing the individuals who’ve made great efforts to collect all of our limited edition racing tops.
As an artist, coming up with our trademarked brand logo was one of the highlights of my creative life. It really stands out among other brands and makes a bold statement. Creating new product ideas coupled with our unique designs and slogans is no easy task. Fashion design really forces you to hit on all creative cylinders.
I learned this well while observing my wife designing in New York City in high fashion. She is a graduate of the prestigious Parsons School of Design. As far as other milestones, we have many goals we have set ahead of us. As runners we’re no strangers to setting and fulfilling long-term goals. …
I would love to see us eventually excel in the Japanese market. That would be a great milestone. The consumers there have a great eye for uniqueness and quality.
Who are the co-founders of RR?
My wife and I.
Are Reckless Running products sold, first and foremost, in stores — if so, where? Or is it mostly done online?
Our site is www.recklessrunning.com We have been in stores, but it was difficult to keep up with demand. Right now we focus primarily on online sales as we are hand making our racing tops in the USA. That extra effort is time-consuming and our agenda is to always maintain high quality. That attention to detail is what sets us apart. We have been working hard on implementing creative strategies towards scaling up our production in the U.S. We have some great new ideas and are excited about where we’ll be in the near future and the impact we’ll have within the sport.
What makes Davidson, North Carolina, a comfortable place for you to train? What’s ideal, if that’s the right word, about Davidson? And are you training in Flagstaff and/or other high-altitude places regularly these days?
Family. I was close to family in New York City for many years and raced extremely well in that environment. Now we are close to my wife’s family. Family support is paramount to achieving success in anything.
Flagstaff was a great place for me to get in frequent high-altitude training. I would typically go to Flagstaff twice a year for a month each trip. For me, Flagstaff was more of a retreat rather than a rigid schedule replete with coaches and intense training partners. The trails of Flagstaff and Sedona were a wonderful place of solitude and reflection for me. I would often train alone and live alone in a hotel, using my days as more of a period of stress-free recharge and contemplation. Running on the beautiful trails of Sedona and the San Francisco peaks in Flagstaff was immensely inspirational and uplifting for me.
I feel fortunate to have been able to train there annually for nearly a decade. The lifestyle and schedule of a professional runner affords a privileged freedom to live any way you want. There is no one way to train to success. Some runners unknowingly throw that freedom away and get caught in the trap of performance, constantly measuring themselves race to race in an endless cycle of anxiety and doubt. I used the gift of that free time to find deeper meaning and purpose. I measured my success more in terms of how much enjoyment I was getting out of workouts and runs as well as racing. In the end this approach ultimately lead to better races. Putting yourself in an environment like Northern Arizona easily lends to greater running enjoyment and introspection. Sadly, I have not been back there in recent years for several reasons.
When I first came up to train at Sedona High School in 2003, they had a dirt/cinder track with not a soul in sight. I remember heading to that same track during my last trip and seeing it fully refurbished with an all weather surface. I waited in the car and watched as over a dozen elite runners jockeyed for position in lane one. My place of retreat and solitude had become a hotspot of activity. For me, this was a distraction. For American distance running, this was a great thing.
Also, at that time I had briefly stayed with a fellow elite runner in Flagstaff. During the stay I had found some signs that indicated to me that he might be cheating with banned PEDs. I had no solid physical evidence of it and was speculating, but one of the red flags came when I found information near the contents of his wallet which he’d emptied onto the kitchen counter. This runner was a messy guy and heavy supplement user. Items would build up here and there and the small article in question was sitting with a pile of the sprawled wallet contents. I had noticed it while sitting at the counter during breakfast.
The object in question listed some alarming information about specific banned PEDs and dosages. I felt concerned, so I took a picture of it with my phone. Shortly after that, when this individual was away from home, the doorbell rang. It was USADA who had come to drug test him. I answered the door and said he was away. Having been tested myself many times, I asked if this individual was outside of his 1 hour designated testing time where he’d be required to appear regardless. They said he was, but I was intrigued and confused by the USADA tester’s specific response to my question.
Because of that, I assisted in helping them summon him on the phone. I was shocked at how this individual’s significant other talked to and treated the drug testers over the phone. I was very disheartened by the entire experience, yet I still maintain hope that he did not cheat. Either way, a confluence of factors made the environment begin to feel toxic in relation to my personal training goals there. I often miss being there and reminisce about my runs in Northern Arizona. What a great place.
What do you think your legacy-in-the-making has already cemented as legacy within running circles in the U.S. and abroad?
If I’ve helped motivate other people to investigate and pursue their full potential and ability in a meaningful way, then that would be enough.
Looking ahead, what’s the ultimate event you want to compete in and win?
The afterlife. The race to attain everlasting happiness is currently taking place in our daily lives.
Hebrews 12:1: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,”
You’ve transitioned to road racing and half-marathons in recent years, but do you still dabble in steeplechase training or reps as part of your workout routine?
I have a specific injury of osteoarthritis in my foot that came about from shoes I was wearing. With the injury I cannot hurdle for long periods without significant pain. I tried to adjust with rehab and push through to steeple in 2012. I did very well in individual workout sessions and was actually attaining PRs in tried and true workouts. Over time though, the cumulative effect of back-to-back sessions aggravated the inflammation and forced too many down days in between workouts and races. The situation was literally two steps forward, one step back.
To reach your best as a runner, you need to have long periods of consistent high-level training without interruption. This injury and other things were causing far too much interruption with steeplechase training and running in general. Now that I’ve had a few years of extensive rehab, I’ve found that I can manage well in flat road races and on the track. But, I still have great difficulty wearing racing spikes.
Apparently I’m fine in particular road racing shoes. However, the nature of my injury greatly limits fit and what I can wear. The sponsorship rules of professional running as upheld by USATF prohibit me from racing in major meets in anything other than shoe company (manufacturers) apparel. Since I have been extremely limited in my choice of racing sneakers, I have been relegated to competing without a shoe sponsorship.
This ironic turn had helped instigate my interest in growing Reckless Running as a brand (manufacturer). By successfully doing so, I’m not only fulfilling my needs, but also making in-roads to help create a business model that puts athletes in the drivers seat. Reckless Running has no immediate plans to develop sneakers, so I am free to race in whatever works for me. Other athletes are at the mercy of the products their sponsors produce. As any serious runners knows, a frequent problem is that brands often discontinue or modify shoes designs. It is common practice for companies to require their sponsored runners to wear and promote the newest products.
So, I have not fully ruled out racing another steeplechase in the future. I will just have to take a completely new approach to getting to the same destination if I do race the event. Overcoming common injuries predominately comes down to having the time and persistent desire to do so. That is the message I like to pass on to runners with chronic injury. Your passion and drive will get you through if you’re patient.
What advice would the 35-year-old Fam give to the 17-year-old Fam entering college to help him during his university years?
I don’t think I’d say much. I have achieved far more than I initially set out to in running. If I were to go back and try to change certain mistakes, I would be taking away some of the most important experiences of my life. For example, what if I said, “Be extra careful not to hit that 12th hurdle in the Olympic prelim in Athens.” Saying that might help my performance, but I’d be taking away the experience that I had a few days later at the Parthenon. I’ve learned that mistakes and failures can sometimes be much more important than a flawless success or win. The #1 rule that I give to young runners I coach or advise is to be patient. I’ve already followed that rule for the vast majority of my running career to much success.
You’ve seen the media attention and public support that distance runner and fellow U.S. Olympians Lopez Lomong has received in telling his story as a Lost Boy of Sudan and then reaching out to establish his own foundation and keep South Sudan in the spotlight. How does this illustrate how significant a role athletes can have for the greater good?
Lopez operates from a place of great optimism in his heart. I wish many more people would do the same more often, myself included. An athlete’s only job (if he has one) is to inspire positive action and achievement in others through his own performance. Modern advertising projects the opposite of this. It projects and reinforces an image of self-glorification.
Many corporations want to be seen as flawless and dominant, so they commonly project that false image through athletes in their ads. Lance Armstrong comes to mind. I also recall seeing a popular Super Bowl ad this year with a song playing called “I’m the man.” The song just kept repeating the phrase, “I’m the man, I’m the man, yes I am.” Young athletes will emulate what they are presented. Unfortunately, they don’t often understand they’re being conditioned by marketing. And, a lot of times they are conditioned towards unhappiness since most them won’t ever win a race or championship game. How then does one fulfill their desire to become “the man”?
You start to see there is an incongruence to this way of thinking. Athletes and their achievements are not meant to be worshiped. The focus should be on examining and pursuing the freedom he/she can gain from personal mastery. This mastery can take place at any level of ability if one achieves their own highest potential.
You’re stranded on a desert island and can only bring along five books and five CDs. Which ones would you take?
I’d try to spend the time in silent reflection and meditation, similar to a hermitage. I like to read non-fiction. I’m currently listening to Beck’s new track “Wave” from his album “Morning Light.” The lyrics of that song would probably be appropriate for the scenario.
Where did you have your most delicious meal? And what was it?
With family at my grandmother’s house in the Bronx. I specifically enjoyed her manicotti recipe.
Which athletes today in any sport are most interesting and compelling to you, watching them on TV or in person?
I like seeing Dale Earnhardt Jr win. I’ve run at his teammate Kasey Kahne’s charity 5k and have grown to be a fan of Kasey as well as Jimmie Johnson. Both Jimmie and Kasey are avid runners. The Mooresville, N.C., area where I live has been a long-time home base for NASCAR. Other than that I don’t watch sports much at all.
Do you have a favorite pro or college team you go bananas over to support or pay attention to?
No. I support my alma mater, the University of Tennessee. I also support Appalachian State University and Davidson College in my hometown.
Going back to your art/creative work – paintings and music – of several years ago, are you actively doing these things nowadays? If so, can you provide some details?
The last oil painting I did was a large diptych for my son’s bedroom. I don’t have much free time to paint. I occasionally make music for Reckless Running promotions. These days I take my son to art class once a week. It’s not an instructional art class, just free time to paint or create with a bigger mix of mediums. The best part is when we don’t have to clean up afterward. We also have art time everyday at home and he loves it. Sometimes he’ll just randomly start saying, “Art time, art time.” His interests are my interests now.
By Ed Odeven
TOKYO (July 2, 2013) — Lopez Lomong, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, has grown into a world-class runner and humanitarian with an important story to tell. He details this story in “Running for My Life,” his autobiography that was published last year.
Lomong is a two-time Olympian, specializing in the 800- and 1,500-meter races and the mile.
Lopez was kidnapped at age 6 during Sudan’s civil war, and later lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for a decade before resettling in Tully, New York, with Catholic Charities providing support.
Lomong became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2007. He attended Northern Arizona University, where I first met him in 2005 while reporting on the NAU Lumberjacks cross country and track and field teams. Lopez captured the NCAA 1,500-meter indoor title in 2007.
We’ve remained in touch from time to time over the past several years. He now resides in Oregon, a hotbed for world-class runners.
In summarizing his life, Wikipedia added these important details: “Although he originally assumed his parents had been killed by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, he was reunited with his mother and family, who now live outside Nairobi, in 2003. He first returned to his native village of Kimotong in December, 2006. He returned to Sudan again in 2008 with an organization called Sudan Sunrise to begin construction of the Lopez Lomong School and Reconciliation Church. In early 2009 he traveled back to bring his younger brothers, Alex and Peter, back to the United States to attend school at Fork Union Military Academy.”
Here’s my most recent interview with Lomong, conducted via email from Japan and the United States in the past few days:
With preparations for the 2013 World Athletics Championships in Moscow picking up steam, how’s training going?
Training is going really well. This is my favorite part of training – the sharpening and speed phase. It is a long season yet so my mileage is still pretty high.
In your opinion, what are the keys to an outstanding 1,500-meter race? Can you pinpoint a few areas you focus on as essential ingredients to success?
Patience is key in a 1,500-meter race. The first few laps of the race position is not too important. In the last 600m you must be very focused on the field and watch for people to begin a kick. It is good to ride on the shoulder of someone who is kicking instead of being the first to expend all of your energy. The final 100m are critical.
How much time in a typical week do you spend watching video footage of your running — practices, races? Do you spend a lot of time studying your running mechanics or that of other elite runners?
I don’t spend any time watching video. I am very comfortable in my running mechanics and to improve my efficiency I spend several hours in the gym every other day doing core work and drills. Every once in awhile I watch a video of a race I’ve run to try to understand where my tactics succeeded or failed. Nothing is better than just getting out there and racing to practice tactics.
Are you a loyal supporter of any pro sports teams in the U.S. or abroad? If so, who’s your favorite(s)?
I am not a very loyal supporter but I do like the N.Y. Giants since they are from my home state. I enjoy watching sports in general, especially college basketball and football.
Mo Farah’s glorious double-gold medal performance in the 5,000 and 10,000 in London was a positive jolt for track and field. And do you believe he’s as important for the sport’s promotional efforts as The World’s Fastest Man, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt?
Mo Farah is a great athlete no doubt! His performance in London in front of a home crowd was fantastic. I aspire to achieve to that level as well as my career progresses. Distance running is a thrilling part of track and field and although distance events generally do not get the same amount of hype as the sprints I think the world is coming to enjoy watching strategy and tactics play out before their eyes in a battle that lasts longer than 10 seconds.
Away from the huge crowds at Olympic Stadium and the media spotlight that comes with it, what’s Farah like on a “normal day” at the track or running trail when he’s just “one of the guys”?
I am not Mo Farah’s training partner (in Oregon) so I cannot comment much on this as we have not spent much time relaxing together.
How has your confidence, running IQ and perspective changed as an athlete by having had the chance to compete in two Olympics and
several other major national and international competitions?
Racing in international competitions changes every athlete’s perspective on training and achievement. At every Olympics I am challenged to imagine what it takes to be successful at the highest level. Olympic competition is draining mentally and physically so it is important to train for that aspect of the Olympics as well. Focus is key at the Olympics as there are so many things pulling your attention in every direction.
Can you describe your book’s basic approach with co-author Mark Tabb? How much time did it take to complete the project? Did he conduct a number of interviews with you for the book? Was most of it done face-to-face or via phone, emails and other forms of communication And did you do a lot of the original writing?
Mark Tabb and I spent about a week together. He shadowed my life and we had long discussions late into the night. He recorded as I dictated my story to him. Mark has a magic with words and he was able to relate my dictated story into written word in a way that keeps the narrative true to my voice. After the initial meeting we met on Skype for several hours every week during the writing chapter. He sent me one chapter a day which I went through carefully, edited, and added new stories and anecdotes. It was a very collaborative process of writing, revision, and sharpening.
I was thrilled to get to work with such an incredible author who could stand in my shoes and relay my story so beautifully. Mark Tabb also had recently adopted two daughters from Africa and this connection allowed him to better imagine my joys and challenges as a new immigrant.
Was there a sense of exhilaration or quiet satisfaction when the book was completed?
It was definitely exhilaration! This is my story but I didn’t write this book for myself. This book is for all of the children in South Sudan who never had the opportunity to tell their stories. I had dreamed for years to be able to bring attention to the children in South Sudan who are in need of such basic things as water and education. I am thrilled that the world can now read my story and engage with their lives and the world in a new way! I wrote this book to inspire people to action – to inspire people to find their purpose in everything they do.
Are you planning to write another book? If so, what’s the planned subject?
Someday I hope to write a follow on book with my girlfriend, Brittany. We have embarked together on a journey in starting out own nonprofit foundation, 4 South Sudan, and through this adventure we have been exposed to incredible joys and despair as we grappled with solving problems in South Sudan. We plan to write a second book someday from our travel journals as we deliver aid in South Sudan. That will be several years down the road still.
What are the biggest challenges South Sudan faces as a young nation? And what areas of investment and international exchange and
partnership are needed most?
As the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan faces the challenges of nation building after surfacing from a civil war that lastest half of the last century. The greatest needs are in infrastructure, like roads, schools, and medical centers. On a local level, communities in South Sudan are in desperate need of clean water sources, education, health care, and nutrition. These are the four areas where our foundation, 4 South Sudan, focuses its effort.
How often do you travel to South Sudan? For your next trip there, what do you expect to be doing?
I travel to South Sudan about once every other year. My next trip is in November 2013 and I will go to survey the work achieved in drilling boreholes and providing access to clean water sources in several rural villages in South Sudan.
How would you summarize Nelson Mandela’s legacy as leader in South Africa, Africa as a whole, and on the global stage?
Without a doubt, Mandela is one of the world’s greatest leaders of all time. He is a role model to leaders in Africa and abroad and his greatest gift to Africa is the proof that corruption and oppression can be overcome with humility and hard work.
If you could make only one mix CD or an iPod collection with, say, only 100 songs, who are a half-dozen or so musicians or groups that top the list for you?
I like a lot of traditional African music including children’s choir music and traditional Sudanese songs. Outside of this music which makes up the bulk of my iPod, you would find a mix of popular hip hop music and even an occasional country song.
What are your top priorities on and off the track for the remainder of 2013? What do you hope to accomplish before the calendar flips to 2014?
In 2013, I will be heading to World Championships in Moscow, Russia where I will take on the world in the 1500m race. I dream to bring a medal back to the US to say thank you to the American people for giving me a second chance at life. I also hope to use the international platform to speak more about the needs of South Sudan and inspire people to act to make a difference in the lives of children in South Sudan.
As I said above, I will also make a trip to Africa in November and that will be a wonderful way for me to reconnect with the South Sudanese communities and reaffirm the importance of the projects we are undertaking.
Do you hope to compete as an Olympian through – or beyond – the 2020 Summer Games?
Yes I hope to compete as an Olympian at least through the 2020 Games. I hope to keep running as long as I still love what I do and can continue to achieve success for the US.
You’ve mentioned interest in pursuing a career in politics in the future. If so, do you see that happening only in the United States or, possibly, South Sudan?
I am not sure about a political career but rather an engagement in the community. I love public speaking and I hope I can work in the future as an officer to build and enrich communities in the U.S. I love South Sudan as my birth country but I am a proud and strong American and my future lies in the U.S. with my family.
What would you say the the Lopez Lomong Foundation has been able to accomplish since it was established? Can you cite a few examples of top projects?
Over the last few years we have raised over $300,000 for water in South Sudan. That has provided clean water to over 6,000 people for life in communities across South Sudan. We aim to raise $500,000 this year for education where we aim to build 2 primary schools and 1 vocational training center in South Sudan.
What long-term goals do you envision the foundation can pursue and achieve?
We will be working in local communities in South Sudan for at least the next 20 years. When we engage with a community we use an empowerment model based on training and utilizing local citizens to build and take ownership for the projects.
Any other thoughts you’d like to share with sports fans and readers?
Find passion in what you do and run for something you believe in!