Refugee-turned-Olympian talks of survival, triumph

Lomong visits Sisters, says America 'next to heaven'

POSTED: 11:17 PM PST November 15, 2012    UPDATED: 8:31 AM PST November 16, 2012 

Olympic runner and refugee Lopez Lomong spent several hours in Sisters Thursday, sharing his story of survival and success.

He paid a visit on the same day USA Track and Field announced Lomong was the recipient of the Visa Humanitarian of the Year award.

The two-time Olympian recalled the moment this life changed forever as he watched American runner Michael Johnson win the 400 meter in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

"I saw him on a black and white TV -- like, I've never seen TV before, operated by a car battery," said Lomong. "By looking at that, it changed my life, 'Oh my God, there is another world away from this.'"

Hearing his story and what he went through just to get to the U.S. is enough to inspire anyone that dreams and goals do come true.

"I want to go run as fast as that guy -- he (Johnson) became my role model," said Lomong. "Michael became my role model. I'm going to go run every day, I'm going to go do all these things to be able to run for that country. "

But his story doesn't begin there. Lomong was 6 years old when he was abducted at a Catholic Mass in Sudan to become a child soldier. He escaped thanks to help of others from his Sudanese village. For three days, he and three others ran, until they crossed the border into Kenya.

"I've been running against people who want to hurt me, away from the people who want to shoot me, away from the bullets. I was running for my life," said Lomong.

After 10 years in a refugee camp, he was brought to the U.S. by Catholic Charities.

"I think that the United States is next to heaven," said Lomong. "It's the place that you go and actually be safe."

Oregon holds a special place in his heart. In 2008, he qualified for the Beijing Games at the Olympic Trials in Eugene.

Four years later, he would do it again, punching his ticket to London. Now the Beaverton man has his sights set on the 2016 Games in Rio.

"I want to run, you know, to represent the Untied States in the Olympic Games," said Lomong. "I want to give back to the American people who supported, loved me unconditionally and opened their doors to allow me to come to this country."