Barbara Huebner—A man without a country, Guor Marial ran into the world spotlight in 2012 when he was given permission in late July to run the Olympic marathon under the International Olympic Committee flag. Born in southern Sudan, Marial fled his village of Pan de Thon in the midst of civil war when he was just 7 years old, only to be kidnapped twice and forced into child labor. After finally reaching Egypt, he and several relatives were granted refugee status and arrived in the United States in 2001. Marial began running while attending high school in Concord, New Hampshire, winning the national indoor two-mile title in 2005; he went on to become a cross-country All-American for Iowa State. At the 2011 Twin Cities Marathon, in his debut at the distance, Marial finished fifth in 2:14:32, an Olympic qualifying time. At the pasta party there, he met Brad Poore, a runner, lawyer and athlete manager who later mounted a campaign to get Marial into the Games. In London, Marial placed 47th in 2:19:32. Now 28, he will be in New York on March 17 to compete in the NYC Half. Here are five things he wants you to know about him:
1. "Eight of my 10 brothers and sisters and many other relatives died during the civil war. So when Sudan wanted me to run for them in the Olympics, I refused. I can forgive, but it was not appropriate for me to represent Sudan. My new nation of South Sudan did not yet have an Olympic committee and I was not yet a U.S. citizen, so I did not think I would be able to run. The whole world came together and allowed me to have this opportunity. The big thing was being able to represent all the people who supported me in getting there. I was carrying those people in my heart."
2. "Manute Bol was a great hero of mine, and in my first year at Concord High School I tried out for the basketball team as a way to learn English. I did not make it because I could not understand the instructions from the coach. I came up with a completely opposite activity from sports: I watched children’s TV shows like Sesame Street and read children’s books for two years straight. During that time a coach saw me in fitness workouts and thought I might make a good track runner instead of a basketball player."
3. "I was offered an athletic scholarship and graduated from Iowa State University in May 2011 with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, and I now tutor high school students on evenings and weekends. During the day I train, and I coach myself."
4. "On February 22, I became a U.S. citizen. I thought, 'I am a free man.'"
5. "After I run the Boston Marathon in April, I will visit my parents in South Sudan. I have not seen them in more than 20 years, since I was 7 years old. That’s a very, very long time. I am excited and nervous. It will be a special moment to go home and see life there and how people are now. My parents were not able to watch me in the Olympics, because they would have had to walk 35 or 40 miles in the rainy season to get to a television. I hope to bring a video so we can watch together."