As I say in my book, as a refugee in Kenya, I imagined that America was next to heaven! America was a place that even the richest and most powerful could not reach - in some sense going to America would have been as impossible as travelling to Mars. I imagined America to be a utopia. To me, Africa seemed a continent full of violence and turmoil. After seeing the devastation of war across so many African countries and observing life in the refugee camp, I felt trapped in the fight for survival. There were moments of joy amidst the pain, but I wanted so badly to go to a place without sin and without violence where there was not reason to be afraid. In my essay to the U.S. embassy cataloging my life story I remember writing: "I do not feel safe here. I have nobody to take care of me. I want to have a new life in America."
But when I arrived in the U.S., speaking essentially no English, I thought that there had been a terrible mistake. From all of the training I had received in Kenya I was told that I would be joining the workforce to make a living to survive in America on my own. I expected to be taken to a factory. But at the airport a family waited for me carrying a sign - "Welcome Home!". I was taken to what looked like a mansion and I kept looking for the servant's quarters...but instead they gave me my own bedroom, my own soccer ball, and my own bike - I had never had any of these before in my life. I was dreading the day when they realized that a mistake had been made and that I did not belong here with them. When I started running Cross Country I felt a lot of pressure to prove to my family that I was worthy of representing them.
After about 6 weeks when I started feeling comfortable with English my parents took me out on a boat ride on the lake (my Dad was determined that I would learn to love the water since we lived on Otisco Lake). This was the first time I told my story. This was also when I realized that the Rogers were really my family. My life in America was not just one of hard work, but also a rediscovery of childhood! Despite the fact that in many ways I knew nothing about America at the age of 16, I knew that I had been given a most amazing gift. I belonged in my new family and I belonged to a country. It didn't change the fact that I wanted to represent family and country with every effort and make them proud. I still strive to do that everyday!
I give constant thanks to the family who pushed through all challenges to bring me and my 5 adopted brothers to the US. They are a blessing and there is no replacement for the love of family! Even more, I thank the American people for opening up their arms to a refugee. That's why we are a great country - a nation of all people! And that is why we have so much to be proud of.
I want to share support now and in the future for all of the refugees searching for a new life and a freedom from war!
To hear more about my story please read Running for My Life.
Running Tip #15: A healthy body is essential for training. Listen to your body during training and make sure that you promote recovery - healthy food, stretching, and most importantly sleep!