By the time Lopez arrived in the United States at the age of 16, he had already learned more about tragedy, loss, perseverance, and hope than most people learn in a lifetime. Born in South Sudan in the midst of the Sudanese Civil War, he was kidnapped from his village at the age 6 by a rebel militia. They intended to turn him into a child soldier, but he and three other boys escaped and travelled over 60 miles by foot over three days to the Kenyan border. He spent the next 10 years in a refugee camp, going to school and playing soccer. In 2001 he was adopted by Bob and Barbara Rodgers from Tully, New York and moved to the United States.
As a high schooler he showed the kind of range and ability that would only blossom as he grew older, running 49.7 for 400m as well as qualifying for the Footlocker National XC Championships. After high school he spent a year at Norfolk State University before moving on to Northern Arizona University where he would earn his degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management. At NAU he won NCAA titles in the indoor 3000m and the outdoor 1500m as well as finishing 3rd at the NCAA XC championships. As a professional he first trained under his college coach, John Hayes, before joining Jerry Schumacher’s training group in 2011. He narrowly missed out on making the 800m team at the 2008 Olympic Trials but came back to make the team by finishing 3rd in the 1500m. His fellow Olympians voted him the honor of carrying the American flag into the stadium during the opening ceremonies in Beijing. He won the 1500m at both 2009 and 2010 USA Track Championships and then finished 3rd at the 2012 Olympic Trials at 5000m, earning his second Olympic berth.
In 2013 he set the American record in the indoor 5000m (since broken) of 13:07.00 and made yet another World Championship team at 1500m. He again ran 13:07 in 2014, this time outdoors, and in 2015 won the NACAC Championship at 5,000m. He was disappointed to miss out on the Olympic Team in 2016 but rebounded with a strong 2017, when he ran 13:12 for 5,000m and was 5th at the US Championships. He demonstrated his tremendous range by winning the 2018 USATF Championship at 10,000m, becoming one of the only men ever to win both the 1,500m and the 10,000m.
Off the track Lopez is heavily involved in charity work. He has a foundation “4 South Sudan” and he tours the country telling his story and raising money for South Sudanese development. in 2012 Visa named him a Humanitarian of the Year. His two brothers Peter and Alex now live in the US and have both shown talent on the track. Alex attends Ohio State, while Peter followed in Lopez’s footsteps at NAU. Off the track he enjoys cooking African food, grilling, and spending time with his wife Brittany and their dog Armani.
If you would like to learn more about Lopez’s incredible journey, check out his book Running For My Life