Lopez Lomong: Dude's Gotta Have A Flaw, But We Can't Find It
If you don't get goose bumps while reading Lopez Lomong's Running For My Life, then maybe you need to check to make sure you still have a pulse. His memoir follows the journey of his incredible life, which contains more highs and lows than a New England June forecast.
His story starts when he's violently kidnapped by Sudanese rebel soldiers at the age of six, and brought to a training camp so they could force him to join their ranks. Once more: he was six — he should be watching Saturday morning cartoons, not learning how to operate a machine gun.
There, three older boys who had also been abducted from his village took him under their wing, and together they somehow manage to escape—a feat that Lopez attributes to God's grace, as it was basically a miracle that they managed to run as far away as they did in their bare feet while basically starving to death.
After making it to the Kenya border (which wasn't the plan, but hey, he's alive right?) he is brought to Kakuma, a UN refugee camp in Kenya. There he makes a life for himself that seems like a blessing compared to his fate with the rebel soldiers, but for those of us who never had to go to bed hungry, it was still a life filled with hunger, need, and incredible poverty.
He also discovers a love for soccer that fills his days with joy, and a desire to learn whatever he can from the teachers the UN provided the camp. (Lest you're picturing an actual school, we feel the need to point out that he learned to write with a stick and dirt, and was smacked with a switch whenever he got an answer wrong. So… remember that when you find yourself groaning when your teacher announces a pop quiz.)
Then, he's told that some of the people at the camp are being given an opportunity to go to America, and the way they are choosing these insanely lucky people is through an essay contest. And it has to be written in English, a language most of the refugees can barely speak, let alone write. Lopez, along with help from all of his friends, somehow manages to get his hands on a paper and pencil, and writes an essay about his life in a language he doesn't know.
As you've probably guessed, Lopez makes it to America, where he's sponsored by an amazingly gracious host family who treat him like a member of the fam. He's bribed by a family friend (with a letter jacket, something Lopez thought to be the height of luxury) to join the high school running team.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Lopez becomes an American citizen, a college graduate, professional runner, and, fulfilling a dream he'd had since catching a glimpse of Michael Johnson on a rickety TV, he represents his beloved country in the 2008 Olympics.
Not only that, but he was just about anonymously elected to be the US flag-bearer during the Opening Ceremonies, which is an honor beyond any of his dreams. And he did all of this with a laid-back, grateful attitude:
"Pressure is trying to make a UN food allotment stretch for thirty days. Pressure is watching friends die of malaria and wondering who in the camp will be next. Pressure is writing an essay that will determine your entire future in a language you do not know. A footrace, even a championship race, did not make me feel pressure."
Lopez manages to write his story in a way that's filled with triumph and a sense of dazed wonder, despite a topic that would make most people reach for the tissues.