Tully's Lopez Lomong will finally take to the track at the London Olympics on Wednesday, the exact four year anniversary of when he was the U.S. Flag bearer at the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremonies.
Lomong inspired an entire country in 2008, but he didn't make the finals of the 1,500 meters. This time around he's competing in the 5,000 meters, and he's ready to inspire the United States even more by winning an Olympic Medal. "A medal would be the best," says his foster mother Barbara Rogers. "Any color medal would be great, but I think if he's happy with his performance, then we'll be happy with his performance."
"Last time he ran in the Olympics it was his first time," admits his foster father Robert Rogers. "This time he comes in as a professional."
The Rogers took in Lomong in 2001 after he spend ten years of his childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp as one of "the Lost Boys of Sudan." Lomong has said that he had never really had a home before the Rogers took him in, and he soon became a popular student and a track star at Tully High School.
As Lomong prepares to compete in London, he has applied for his foster parents to win the 2012 O.C. Tanner Inspiration Award, an award that honors athlete's Olympic mentors.
Lomong's story, published on the O.C. Tanner Facebook page, reads:
"In 2001, my parents, Barbara and Robert Rogers, saw a small black and white photograph of a 16-year-old Sudanese refugee on their church bulletin They decided to take a chance and change that child's life. The little boy in the photograph was me.I had lived in a refugee camp for more than a decade and left behind all dreams for a promising future. My childhood had been robbed from me and I focused everyday on just surviving. While Barbara and Robert knew nothing about me except my name and age, they agreed to adopt me."
"I flew to Syracuse, New York," the story continues, "to find my new, adoptive parents holding a big sign, which read "Welcome home, Lopez!" It was the first time in my life that I ever had a country to call home and parents that cared about me. All of a sudden, I was given an identity and was allowed to be a child once again. I went to school and my dreams of a future returned. I realized even a lost child could matter in this country, and my parents pushed me to dream big. They encouraged me to chase a dream of becoming a college graduate despite never having an education. When I told them about my Olympic dream, their support was unfaltering. Since 2001, they have adopted five other Sudanese boys, touching thousands of lives with their compassion and faith."
Barbara Rogers, his adoptive mother, says, "Part of his mindset is that he was given another chance by coming to the United States. He wants other people to be given an opportunity as well. He wants a chance to inspire. If that's through running, or working with kids or teens, I think that's where he's headed. I think running is so much a part of who he is that some of these other aspects that get worked into his life really round him out as a person."
"To see him there, to me, that's great," says his younger foster brother Obang Okor. "To see can do what he wanted to do. Most of us didn't really have dreams like that when we were young, and to know that you can make that dream come true coming here and given that chance, I think it's amazing."
The Olympic portion of Lomong's inspiration will continue on Wednesday, as he'll look to quality for the August 11 finals of the 5,000 meters. His former high school coach Jim Paccia says Lopez is now a much more seasoned runner than in 2008.
"He's a different person now," says Paccia. "He's come a long way both in his ability and the way he handles himself in a tough field. I think he's ready. He's been seasoned over the last four years. In the first one he was a little boy with wide eyes, just going into a place he hasn't been before, but he's been there now."