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Guor Marial - Speech for ORR Consultation

Published: October 2, 2012

Olympic marathoner Guor MarialLadies and Gentlemen: I am very grateful and pleased to stand before you here today to express my sincere thank you to the individuals and organizations who helped me get into the London 2012 Summer Olympics games. Also, I am pleased to have this opportunity to share with you my life journey toward the Olympics.

I would like to thank the Office of Refugee Resettlement for inviting me to this important event, and for its excellent work to the refugees within the United States and around the world. In addition, I like to thank Brad Poore, an attorney from California who supported me throughout my Olympic journey. A million thanks to UNHCR, Refugees International, the USA Track & Field Committee, and U.S Senator Jean Shaheen of New Hampshire for convincing the International Olympic Committee to allow my participation at the 2012 summer London Olympics game. Also, a big thank you to all my supporters in United States, in South Sudan, and all around the world for standing behind me.

Eleven years ago when I arrived to the United States as young teenager and a surviving refugee from the civil war in Sudan, becoming an Olympian in 2012 was more than impossible. I was neither a runner nor a good athlete in any sport. I did not know the English language and I had zero expectations of what my new home was holding for me. In my first year, I tried out for the high school basketball team but I did not make it because I could not understand the instructions from the coach. I wanted to make the team with all my heart because I thought it was an easy way to learn English, and also a way to make friends. Unfortunately that dream did not happen as planned.

Because learning the English language in reading, writing, and speaking was the ultimate goal at the time, I came up with a completely opposite activity from sports. I spend more time watching children’s TV shows, including Sesame Street, and reading children’s books for two years straight. The language in those materials was simple and easy to understand. After those two years, my speaking, writing, and reading were 10 times better than before. Once I found that language strength, I got myself a job at grocery store working as a produce associate, while going to school.

However, while I was physically working and going to school, my heart was still yearning for sport. But this time it was not a basketball; instead, it was a track & field. In spring of 2002, I tried out for the high school track team. Fortunately, I was chosen to be a member of the team, despite my language difficulties. In that first year of running, I came in second at New Hampshire’s Outdoor Track & Field State Championship. And then I went on to place sixth at the New England High School Cross Country championship in the fall of 2002.

I continued working harder in school, athletics, and my job throughout high school. That hard work helped me win the high school national championship in indoor track & field. Fortunately, I was offered an athletic scholarship to attend Iowa State University as an NCAA Division 1 athlete. I carried on that work ethic throughout college and graduated in May 2011 with Bachelor of Science in Chemistry.

Right after I graduated, I packed up my belongings and headed off to Flagstaff, AZ for marathon training, and with the hope to make the Olympic team for the Republic of South Sudan. I trained for one month and half and ran my first marathon in Twin Cities Minneapolis, MN, on October 2, 2011. That marathon time mark qualified me for the 2012 Olympics. Unfortunately, I was not able to represent South Sudan because the country is not a member of the International Olympic Committee. On other hand, I could not run for the United States because I am not yet a full citizen. Sadly, I was left to no man’s land.

However, the International Olympic Committee and the Sudan Olympic Association suggested that I could go to the Olympic by representing Sudan. It was the great offer and suggestion, for which I sincerely thank you both organizations for reaching out in such a kind way. Unfortunately, it was impossible to take that offer.  I was kidnapped by North Sudan and was forced to work as a slave for two years without pay.  In addition, 28 of my family and relatives combined, plus two and half million South Sudanese lost their lives because of this civil war. I can only forgive, but I cannot honor those who caused harm to the people of South Sudan and myself.

This Olympic moment was for the people of South Sudan, the refugees all around the world, immigrants, and stateless ones. The moment was to lift the spirits of young boys and girls of South Sudan within the country and abroad. I was very fortunate to be the one showing the world that South Sudan is not just a country of war and hate, but a country full of talented youngsters who are willing to accomplish so much. It’s about the lack of opportunities, equal rights, and a matter of time.

Speaking of opportunity, my success and dream for all the refugees, including some of you here in this room, would have not come true if there was no ORR, UNHCR, IOM, Refugees International, and all the supportive agencies. They are our life savers and they have done so much, and I cannot help but to say that you (the agencies) will no longer be in this struggle alone. We, refugees, whom you have saved and shown a better way of life will support you and work with you. The displacement of refugees around the world will not end soon unless all the world nation leaders join hands for peace.

Not everyone is a leader, but only those who have a heart for human rights and the will to sacrifice their lives are leaders. Therefore, brothers and sisters, mothers, and fathers in this room and elsewhere, let us all work together so that a young refugee, immigrant, or stateless one, could have the same opportunity as I had. On my part, I will continued training hard for the next Olympics, as well inspire young boys and girls of South Sudan, refugees, and the younger generation in general. I will also do everything I can to make sure South Sudan takes part in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. 

Thank you very much for listening, and may God bless all of you.

--Guor Marial, September 19, 2012