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Meet the runner with no country

July 30th, 2012
05:37 PM ET

By Mick Krever

(CNN) - More than 10,000 athletes are competing in the London Olympics, each representing a country. All, that is, except four.

One of the so-called “Independent Olympic Athletes” is Marathon runner Guor Marial. His country of South Sudan is so new – just over one year – that it doesn’t yet have an Olympic team.

It is safe to say that no one has had to overcome more hardship en route to the Olympic Games.

At age seven, he left his home and was forced to work for Sudanese soldiers, earning just a dollar per month.

“The life wasn’t fun,” he says matter-of-factly. “I had to do it because I had no choice. I’d rather get one dollar per month instead of getting nothing or going to eat in the garbage.”

Fate rubbed salt in his wound when he was abducted from his de-facto slavery by a group of herders who forced him to tend to their goats and sheep.

He was a “lost boy” – part of a generation of Sudanese boys captured and enslaved during a two-decade-long civil war.

Marial knew his only option for survival was escape.

“I ran into one of the guys; he was a little older than me, around 10, 11, or 12,” Marial recalled. “I talked to him and I said, ‘Okay, what are we going to do?’ These people, I’m pretty sure, they are not going to let us go back. … They might go and kill us and do whatever they want with us.”

Two days later, Marial and his accomplice made their escape.

“When the sun came up, we started running,” Marial said. “And we walk, we ran, we walk, we ran.”

Competition, no surprise, was the furthest thing from his mind.

“I was appreciating the running because the running allowed me to escape,” he said. “When I left Sudan, I said I will never, never run again, because I thought running is only for me to save my life.”

It was not until Marial was granted asylum to the United States, in 2001, that he could imagine running for sport.

“When I came to United States I felt confident and comfortable there,” he said. “I am safe now. I am not worried about anything besides…my parents.” He has not seen them in 20 years.

Marial’s whole family still lives in South Sudan.

South Sudan’s joyous – and given its history, relatively peaceful – independence last year was quickly tempered. It is one of the poorest countries in the world. And tensions with Sudan over oil and territory have left it teetering on the brink of war.

“Everything’s still pretty much the same as I left it; that’s what I’ve been hearing,” Marial said. “There’s still no electricity, no running water, none whatsoever. People are still drinking in a river.”

Still, he said, his family will watch him compete in London – no easy task in South Sudan. They will have to walk over 30 miles to get to a village with electricity.

Since independence, his family got “a little bit of road,” Marial said. But because it’s the rainy season, the route to the nearest TV is inaccessible by car.

“I think they will be more excited than me,” Marial said of his parents. “And very proud of me. And appreciated what I have done, and what I am going to do. And not just them, but I hope the whole South Sudan will appreciate what is going on, and be able to have a chance to see me running in the Olympics, and see their own blood is representing them.”

“This is the light I’ve been seeing when I’m walking in the tunnel, in the dark tunnel,” Marial said. “This is what I’ve been waiting for.”

soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. Safiya Musa

    Well done!

    July 30, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Reply
    • Ann Anhalt

      Thanks for airing this amazing story. Iowa will be cheering for Guor Marial on August 12th.

      July 30, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Reply
  2. ibifaa

    All hope is never lost for a breathin africans,despite what we are faced with daily in our continent n different countries we have continue to hold up our heads high in fair esteem...keep d bro n win dis medal 4 south sudan

    July 30, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Reply

    no country(judicial case at USA courts against Obama,UN,vodafone country)

    July 30, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Reply
  4. Nelson Uche

    Ride on Bro., The LORD is ur strength. Remember "Winners never quit, neither do quitters win." GOD BLESS YOU.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  5. Dan

    I hope he wins BIG !!

    July 30, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Reply
  6. Jojoe

    Have read this article a couple of times and I feel for him. He's got a good life now and a career he won't have had.... Goodluck to him all the way!

    July 30, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Reply
  7. Mynne

    Marial's life story of survival merits a good piece for a "true-to-life" movie material. I hope he wins his game, so he could realize his ultimate goal....this time to "run" and win in the Olympics and make his kins & country proud!

    July 30, 2012 at 8:16 pm | Reply
  8. Makuei

    Congrats @ Marial, for a step you had taken. Keep up with that spirit. All the best.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:39 pm | Reply
  9. Rachael

    The Lord gives joy for ashes and strength for fear. May the Lord be with you and give you strength and endurance to realize your dreams. May He also protect your family. Go Big. Go for Gold. You're already a winner!

    July 30, 2012 at 9:13 pm | Reply
  10. vanessa

    Running will be his best curse if ever. I'm looking forward for his victory.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Reply
  11. walter

    GOD is Good!!! All the time for Marial.... Good Luck! Be proud... you're a Big winner for us all!!

    July 30, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Reply
  12. Zane Lina

    Goosebumps while reading this. He had made a difference. He's inspiring a lot of people now. All the best to him!

    July 30, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Reply
  13. Rome

    How painful and how sad from your past.. I really touch will be the one to bring your countrys bring them back!and restore and be proud and loud! and Hope!.... God bless you sir!.Love you..were here for silent..

    July 30, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Reply
  14. karissadenae

    Thank you for this sobering article! All the best to this young man!

    July 31, 2012 at 12:13 am | Reply
  15. Alberto

    It is really impressive how people can inspire you so much, in this is one of the examples, I wish you the BEST, Marial,
    you have already won.
    Never give up, God bless you.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:34 am | Reply
  16. Shadrack D

    Guor , you are one in million Olympians but the fact that you represent South Sudan is a great honour for all South Sudan citizen. God will be with you n we are also with you. cheers

    July 31, 2012 at 12:40 am | Reply
  17. Patrick

    May our Loving Jesus bless you and your Country. Keep praying to Jesus.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:55 am | Reply
  18. okoye

    i will thanks United state of America they are second God i m seen in this world, i never had such a good thing from china or any part of Asian, its always a western people especial USA they my second God they are the one who make human right work real if this young man is mistakenly asylum in Asian part he will still be a slave still all of his ambition will still die but God take him to his own country were he will achieve his dream God bless USA

    July 31, 2012 at 1:00 am | Reply

    Africans should be proud wherever they are. They are the rare gene.Making so much out of nothing.A people Beloved of God.Rejoicing not in poverty but in d potency of the collective Will to make a Change. Wish Marial a medal.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:03 am | Reply
  20. kiviwosheg

    The advantage of believing in oneself and keeping hopes alive am inspired

    July 31, 2012 at 2:02 am | Reply
  21. Mac Acuek

    We cheered you big brother. You will be remember from now on ward a hero and a fighter. You will be our Dr. John Garang the second. Blessed you.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:55 am | Reply
  22. Yogesh

    When I heard his story on CNN, I feel I live in a real safe side of the world with all the luxuries in life. Guor Marial you ROCK.. I am sure both South and North Sudan will be proud of you and take YOU as an example, to change there views, for progress and peace. You make your mom and dad proud. GOOD LUCK. I wish you WIN the marathon.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:29 am | Reply
  23. Elaine

    Good luck to you Guor Mariel. I want to watch you run in the Olympics and I hope that you win some medals. Please make everyone in South Sudan, the USA and the rest of the world very proud of you. It won't just be your family who will be proud of you.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:17 am | Reply
  24. Nicole

    Thank you for doing this Ms. Amanpour. Guor deserves everything he has earned and more. My father was his high school coach, and he lived with my family for some time. He has amazed me since the day I met him and will continue to do so. We all couldn't be more proud! He wanted to bring awareness to the situation in Sudan, and he's finally getting it. Congratulations to one of the most amazing people I have ever had to chance to know and love in my life! And I am proud to call him family.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Reply
  25. Matthew

    Go Guor! We in Concord, NH are very proud of you and wish you the best of luck. I hope you return here one day and share your story and GOLD medal with your fellow CHS alums.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Reply
  26. Hanif Akhtar

    What he did (running) for his escape, its doing him fame.

    August 2, 2012 at 9:53 am | Reply
  27. Donna

    We hope you win BIG in London! Run for the Gold... you are an inspiration to all of us

    August 3, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Reply
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