Civil war forced Guor Maker to flee South Sudan as a child. Here, the Olympian explains how sport has played a major role in rebuilding his life.
I was born in a small remote village called Pan de Thon in South Sudan’s Unity State (now Ruweng State). When I was eight years old, as a result of the civil war in the south, I moved to north Sudan, where I lived until 1999 when I fled to Egypt with my uncle’s family, again due to civil war.
Two years later, the family’s application to live in the USA was approved. Being forced to leave my home country has impacted me in many ways – both negatively and positively. War cost the lives of 28 of my family members and the lives of millions of South Sudanese. It forced me to be separated from my family at a really young age and to flee to a safer place – the USA – which today I call home.
War took away my childhood love, which I could have shared with my family, relatives and the community. It forced me to live without a father or mother figure. It is the most painful experience, one that no child or adult should have to go through.
However, fleeing from South Sudan also opened many windows of opportunity for me that I may not have experienced at home. I had a good education, as well as the opportunity and facilities to compete in athletics, and it saved my life. I am now a completely different person. I am grateful to the American government and its people for the outstanding support and love they have given me. I could not ask for a better place to live.
I hope my participation in the Olympic Games helps to bring peace to South Sudan.Guor Maker South Sudan
I started running in 2002 at my high school in Concord, New Hampshire. The day I won the 3,200m event in the high school national indoor championship was when I realised that I could potentially compete at a high level, if I got a chance to go to a university that had good coaches and a quality programme for long-distance running. Luckily enough, I was granted a full athletics scholarship to attend Iowa State University to compete under coach Corey Ihmels. In 2008, I earned All-American honours in the NCAA national cross-country championship, which was a game-changing moment in my athletics career.
Competing at the Olympic Games London 2012 was a huge breakthrough for me. It was a special moment and I have a hard time finding the right words to describe it! The International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave me permission to compete as an Independent Olympic Athlete. It spoke volumes for what sport can do. I sincerely thank the IOC for giving me the opportunity to take part in the marathon at London 2012 and for its kind support over the last four years.
Competing under the South Sudan flag at the Olympic Games Rio 2016 was a dream come true, and I am grateful to the IOC for this opportunity too. I was privileged to honour the millions of lives that were lost fighting for the freedom of South Sudan. Without their sacrifices I wouldn’t have been alive. It was also a great opportunity to honour my father, my mother, and the lives of the 28 relatives whom I lost during the civil war. I hope my participation in the Olympic Games helps to bring peace to South Sudan.
Four years ago, no one could have thought there would be a Refugee Olympic Team participating at Rio 2016. For the IOC to give these athletes such an opportunity highlights the spirit of sport. It is a decision that I am very thankful for, as are refugees worldwide.
Guor Maker competed in the marathon at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.