A whistle blows.
The future 1500-meter champion is called to the sidelines and the ball is taken away. He walks dejectedly to his new position—as goalie.
“In Kenya, I started playing soccer,” two-time Olympian and flag bearer Lopez Lomong told me. “I always wanted to win because I didn’t like to lose so I started to play striker.”
A striker, in soccer speak, is the player who scores the goals. They’re called forwards or attackers as well. Though the team plays together, the strikers get the glory.
Lopez wanted that glory.
“I would hold the ball and run with it all the way until I would score,” he says. “I wouldn’t give it to anyone. I would think, if I share with someone else, I could lose the ball.”
So Lopez would play as a virtual one-man team—speeding up and down the field with the ball, stealing, scoring, and getting all the glory.
Then things changed.
“They said, ‘You need to learn to be the goalie so you can learn to share the ball.’”
Lopez learned to be a goalie. The goalie is the consummate team player. As a goalie, you need to motivate your teammates. You are the last line of defense in a game. You have to keep your eye on the action all the time and be in constant communication with your teammates.
“I became one of the best goalies,” says Lopez. “And I started learning to share.”
Since that time, Lopez has become two things: a great athlete and a man who shares. Lopez gives back.
He came to the United States in 2001 as one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan”—a product of the civil war in Sudan—taken in by loving foster parents. Although he feared his parents in Sudan had been killed, he learned that they were still alive and was able to contact his mother by cellphone.
Reunited in Sudan with his parents for the first time, 17 years after he had been abducted from his mother’s lap at a church service, he saw the needs of his country with new eyes.
Today, Lopez is a tireless advocate for the people of South Sudan—the newest country in the world, gaining independence from Sudan in 2011. “God keeps blessing me,” he says, “I want to go and try and raise as much money as I can.” Money for clean water, healthcare, education—for people who are starting from scratch.
“I want to do more with World Vision,” he says. World Vision has worked in Sudan since 1972—and South Sudan since its independence in 2011—bringing relief and supporting the local church. And when Lopez sets his mind to something—it happens.
There is something very special about every Olympic athlete. Gymnasts such as Simone Biles and swimmers such as Michael Phelps do what seems to be the impossible. Kerri Walsh Jennings plays volleyball in sand! I can barely walk in sand. Ashton Eaton and Brianne Theisen aren’t only the best at what they do—they’re married to one another. It’s mind-boggling.
But as I watch the Olympics, I cannot help to think about Lopez’s story and how he learned the greatest lesson of all: living to share. For it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. Lopez learned that early in life in a refugee camp in Kenya, barefoot on a soccer field.
He will be remembered not just for his victories on the track—but for the broader journey of his life—a life lived for others.
That’s true glory.
By Kari Costanza
World Vision USA