Excerpt: Running For My Life, “Thank You America”

Lost Boy Lopez Lomong’s journey from the Killing Fields of Sudan to the Olympic Games.

This excerpt reprinted with permission from Thomas Nelson Publishing. Buy the book here.

The second injury of my career came ten minutes before the biggest race of my life. I never saw it coming. Over the previous three days I sailed through the first two rounds of the 1,500 meter Olympic trials even after running three 800 meter races in the days leading up to the first round. My body felt strong. My pulled hamstring felt so good when I ran that I almost forgot I’d injured it. From time to time it would tighten up, but Dr. Wharton always made me good as new. Even Coach Hayes had calmed down a little after watching me run in the semifinal race. My performance finally convinced him that running the 800 meter final did not blow my chance to make the Olympic team in the 1500. We were one heat away He actually appeared relaxed.

The day of the finals, I was out in the infield grass stretching from side to side when the first call for the 1500 came. I made my way toward the reporting area by doing long strides to finish my stretching. If not for my leg injury, I might have sat down to stretch, but I didn’t want to take a chance on my hamstring tightening up. Once I finished my long strides, I planned to have Dr. Wharton do a quick rubdown right before the race to make sure the hamstring was good and loose. I went through the same routine before every race. now that I was in the final, I saw no point in changing anything.

I took my first couple of long strides. My legs felt great. Then I took my third. My right foot came down on what appeared to be a normal patch of grass. I never saw the small hole into which my foot dropped. I came down on it awkwardly, twisting my ankle on the same leg that had the bad hamstring. Pain shot up my leg. I tried to jog it out, but i couldn’t put any weight on my right foot.

“Second call, 1500 meter men’s final,” the track announcer said. I saw Coach Hayes on the opposite side of the track, but I avoided him. If he saw me limping, he might shatter his cell phone on the ground.

I headed straight to Dr. Wharton. “I have a problem.” “What happened? Is it your hamstring?” he asked. “No. My hammy feels great, but I twisted my ankle in a hole while doing strides.” I spoke very softly so no one else could hear. The race was about to start, and I could hardly walk. I didn’t want anyone else to know.

“Oh no. Are you serious? Here, lay down. Let me see what i can do.” He grabbed my foot and made a couple of adjustments.

“Third call, 1500 meter men’s final.”

Coach Hayes walked over to me. He had a puzzled look on his face. “What are you doing, Lopez? Time to report for the race. Why are you laying down now?”

“He twisted his ankle,” Dr. Wharton said.

Coach Hayes hid the anxiety. He could not let the injury get to my head. We both knew Dr. Phil was the best at what he did. “Keep focused on the race plan, Lopez. Remember all of the different plans we dis- cussed. you know when to make your move.” It was almost that point where he turned me loose. He looked concerned about my ankle but kept me focused on the race plan.

“I’m fine now, Coach,” I said. I stood up. The ankle still did not feel right, but I had to go report for the race. They weren’t going to delay the finals until my ankle healed.

I grabbed my backpack and my uniform and started over toward the track. As I walked I prayed, God, I know You gave me this dream for something bigger than myself. You’ve done too many impossible things in my life so far for me to believe that You want my dream to end like this.

I took another step. The pain in my ankle disappeared. I took another couple of steps. My ankle felt like I’d never run a race in my life, much less five in the past six days. I ran a couple of strides.

Coach Hayes looked calmly at me. “Go run the race we planned” he said.

“Yep. See you at the finish line.”

I handed Coach Hayes my backpack and went over to the reporting station. As I walked up, I heard a couple of coaches talking. “Yeah, Lopez is injured,” one said.

“What the heck was he thinking running all those races? He blew his chances,” said another.

“Excuse me,” I said as I squeezed past them to the reporting desk. They looked at me like they’d seen a ghost. Their shock quickly turned to relief. With me hurt, their guys had an easier path to Beijing. I gave them a slight smile. I knew something they didn’t know.

After reporting, I took my place on the start line. Pure joy washed over me. This is the moment I’ve been dreaming about for eight years. Kakuma to Tully to Norfolk, Flagstaff to Colorado Springs, and now here, Eugene, Oregon. This is the place. My dream is about to come true!

“Go, Lopez!” someone yelled from the crowd. I smiled and looked up in the stands. There was Melissa, my friend who brought me photographs of my mother. She wore a red shirt that said, “Run fast, Lopepe,” in Swahili. Brittany sat near her. I thought about all the laps the two of us had run together in Colorado Springs getting ready for today. She smiled a huge smile at me. Oh what a wonderful moment this was. I was not running from bullets or away from hunger. no, this was the ultimate moment of running for pure joy.

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