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Lost Boy of Sudan Achieves American Dreams

Lopez Lomong
Lopez Lomong came to the United States with two dreams: to compete in the Olympics and to graduate from college. And now he can say he’s achieved both.

Lopez Lomong’s life is like a movie, and you can almost hear the trailer: He started out running for his life, now he runs because he’s fast. From Lost Boy of Sudan to U.S. Olympic Athlete.

Hollywood producers are planning to make a movie based on his life. This week he added another scene to the screenplay - college graduation.

Lomong came to the United States with two dreams: to compete in the Olympics, and to graduate from college. He can now say he’s achieved both.

"After looking at it, I complete the puzzle," Lomong said. "I was a flag bearer in the Olympics in sporting events. Now I’m a standard bearer in academic as well. That is something I wanted to balance in my life."

At age six, caught up in the violence of the Sudanese civil war, Lomong was kidnapped by the rebel militia but escaped with two older boys. They ran until they collapsed, winding up in a refugee camp in Kenya. Lomong lived there for 10 years, separated from his family, who he assumed had been killed.

In 2001, Catholic Charities brought him and thousands of other “lost boys,” as they were called, to the United States. Barbara and Rob Rodgers gave him a home in Tully, New York. They said those first days were overwhelming for Lopez.

"He was just nodding his head and smiling," Rodgers said. "He figured he was there by mistake. There was no way he belonged there. And that we didn’t know. He was trying to be really good because he thought he’d get in a lot of trouble when they’d find out he was there."

Lopez smiles broadly when he thinks back to that time. During his first cross country race at Tully High School he kept passing the golf cart that led the race.

Lomong polished his running skills at Northern Arizona University and became known among his peers for his kick. He keeps pace with the leaders of a race, then in the last seconds, he shifts into a higher gear, and often he wins.

In 2007, he won the 1500 meter race at the NCAA Championships.

Later that same year he became a U.S. citizen and qualified for the 2008 Olympics. At the opening ceremony in Beijing, Lomong carried the US flag, sporting a white cap, blue blazer and huge smile. Lomong spoke at a press conference that day:

"I’m so happy and I’m so proud to be an American, and I’m looking forward represent my country raise my flag just proudly," Lomong said. "I’m just so happy, very happy."

He’s received a lot of media attention. HBO even reunited him with his Sudanese family, who survived the civil war. He brought two brothers back to the U.S. and they’re now in college here.

Lomong graduated Friday with a degree in hotel management. He plans to bring tourism back to Sudan some day.

Right now he’s also training to compete in the 2012 Olympics in London.

"Now I have one goal in my mind to be on that podium and represent our country," Lomong said.

This time he hopes to bring home a medal - and when Lopez Lomong sets his mind on something, there’s no stopping him.