Commentary

Lopez Lomong shares trials with brothers

Updated: June 29, 2012, 4:29 PM ET
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

EUGENE, Ore. -- Lopez Lomong bought his younger brothers in Kenya a gift before he ran in the 2008 Olympics.

"I said, 'You have to watch me in the Olympics. And not on black and white TV. Color TV,'" he said. "Because my mother was calling me and saying, 'These kids have been going to neighbors and they're not coming home on time to do their homework. So I went out and bought them a TV."

After the Olympics, he gave them something more important. An opportunity.

"This is why I'm running, for these two guys here, Alex and Peter," Lomong, a former Sudanese Lost Boy, said pointing to his brothers. "Because when I reunited with my family after 17 years, I saw these guys there with my mom, so young, and they didn't even know there was hope for them. I said to myself, 'I'm not going to let them just stay there and go through what I went through.' I wanted to bring them to the United Sates and get the education they need and give them that life together."

So Lomong flew to Kenya where his family had relocated and brought the two brothers back to the United States in 2009, helping set them up with a foster family in Virginia. And Thursday night, when Lomong qualified for his second U.S. Olympic team in the men's 5,000-meter run, Peter, 15, and Alex, 14, were at Heyward Field, cheering him on.

"Seeing the last 200 meters, I was screaming!" Peter said. "He was doing good, he was doing great at kicking. But I saw him slowing down a little and I was like, 'Wow, what are you doing?' I felt really, really happy when he made it."

Lomong's story of running from the horrors of Sudan's war and eventually running for the United States in the Olympics was so inspiring that he was named the American flagbearer for the Opening Ceremonies in Beijing. Since then, he's been telling the story as much as possible so that other Sudan refugees and those still back in the country can be helped. He has a book coming out this week, "Running For My Life," and also started the "4 South Sudan/Lopez Lomong Foundation" to raise money for his homeland. http://lopezlomong.com/

"Clean water, health care, education and nutrition, those are the four things I'm focusing on giving the people of south Sudan opportunity," said Lomong, 27. "If I'm not able to do anything, nobody is going to do anything, so I have to speak out.

"I tell people, 'Run with me. Run along with me. Let's help these people as much as we can. Let's get them clean water.' Girls travel 15, 20 miles to get clean water. On the way they're getting killed and raped. They're vulnerable. Why does it have to be like that?"

South Sudan gained independence last July, but epic challenges remain.

"There are no roads, no education, no health care," Lomong said. "This is a country that, yes, it has independence, but it has no legs. It's still crawling. We still need to be able to go there and uplift them."

Lomong was six years old in 1991 when he was kidnapped by soldiers while attending mass before ending up in a refugee camp. His family assumed he was dead and he assumed the same about them. He was resettled in the United States through Catholic Charities in 2001 and his family relocated to Kenya. They finally were reunited in 2003.

"I had no idea he was alive," Peter recalled. "My mother said, 'You have a brother.' We had no idea. When he contacted my mom, that's how I knew."

Lomong ran the 1,500 meters for the U.S. in Beijing but will run the 5K in London after finishing third behind Galen Rupp and Bernard Lagat at the trials Thursday. In addition to running for the United States, he also will be running for all the children still in danger in Sudan.

"There are a lot of kids who are still going through the same thing I went through, who are still getting kidnapped, who are still being trained as child soldiers, who are going through all these things," Lomong said. "I didn't want my brothers to be kidnapped like I was, I wanted them to be safe and come live in the United States like I did.

"They know what they are here for -- education. They have all the tools in front of them. Take advantage of it. Go to school. Graduate from college. Because you can break all the records, but all those records will be broken by someone else. But that education, they can never take that away from you."

Citizenship and education are not the only goals Peter and Alex share with their older brother. Like Lopez, they are also runners.

"I wanted them to play other sports, but they wanted to follow what I went through," Lomong said. "Actually, they're quite good. More than me. It's quite incredible. I'm just so thankful to the American people opening their hands to invite them over to go to school here in America."

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com