Guor Marial, the young man dubbed in this year’s Olympic Games the “runner without a country,” is competing in the men’s marathon under the Olympic flag instead of the South Sudanese flag because, with civil war having ended in 2005 and the country officially having become independent in July 2011, South Sudan does not yet have a recognized national Olympic committee.
It’s widely known that in 1994, when only eight years old, Guor was kidnapped and forced into a labor camp during the Sudanese civil war, and that 28 members of his family were killed during the conflict. He eventually fled with his uncle to Egypt, later settling in the United States. But unless you’re from the New England area, you’ve seen little reported about his early days, his days attending high school in Concord, New Hampshire.
At Guor’s high school graduation, in 2005, one of the guest speakers, Chris Dupuis, compared his graduating class to spiders who will soon be gently pushed by wind from the webs they have built in Concord. Joelle Farrell, a staff writer for the Concord Monitor, wrote the article “An end, a new start” describing his speech:
“Dupuis, who taught chemistry at Concord High until leaving last year, read a poem that described watching a spider spinning its web in the corner of a window and, one day, finding the spider is gone. ‘Every time a spider leaves, the web remains.'”
Guor Marial, born in South Sudan, has left his mark in New Hampshire and soon, after spinning a new web in London, will leave his mark on the world.
It’s evident that New Hampshire has loved Marial for many years. One great article in the Concord Monitor, “A life on the run,” written by Dave D’Onofrio in March of 2005, describes the tenacious spirit of this young Olympian hopeful.
D’Onofrio wrote about what life was like for Guor as a boy: sitting in his classroom and hearing shooting; running for safety with his teacher into the woods and staying there for four days without food or protection from the mosquitoes; how he had been forced from his home four or five times a month and how sometimes his house got burned down and his family would have to rebuild; how he had his teeth knocked in by the butt of a rifle; how cousins died of starvation; and how his half-brother was shot to death running into the street trying to escape enemy troops.
Living in New Hampshire had its challenges for Guor as well. D’Onofrio writes:
“…without knowing a word of English, the adjustment was difficult…He has been running his whole life. Running from gunfire. Running from war. Running from his homeland.”
The article also quoted Guor as saying: “I used to run away from someone, but now I run for this sport.”
It wasn’t until his phys ed teacher, Eric Brown, suggested he try out for the track team (and Guor thought he was joking; he wanted to play soccer) that he learned running could be just for fun, and four years later he won the state cross-country championship and broke New Hampshire’s two-mile mark, winning the national title in that event.
While attending high school in New Hampshire, he worked at a local supermarket, sending his family in Sudan portions of his earnings; studied in English as a Second Language classes; and ran track. Then, when his brother was killed in the civil war, he broke down and felt like quitting his track team. Leaving his country, missing his parents, adapting to a new culture, memories of war…it was overwhelming for him as a teenager.
In another Concord Monitor article, “Stability, structure and inner peace,” Ray Duckler reported that “Marial wanted to quit the team, perhaps quit school, and go home, where the Sudanese government was slaughtering his people.” His coach was able to talk him into staying and Marial proved that he was very courageous, resilient, and had a determined spirit.
There may be many athletes who inspire viewers in London at this year’s Olympic Games, but in my mind, no athlete has beaten the odds like Guor Marial. He doesn’t need a gold medal to be identified as the greatest of champions.Powered by Sidelines