Growing up in war-ravaged Sudan, Guor Mading Maker spent his boyhood running from violence simply to stay alive.
His incredible life story is the subject of a new documentary, “Runner,” which is available through organizations like the Kentucky Derby Festival that are hosting the film virtually.
Separated from his parents when he was only 8 years old, Maker set off on a three-year, marathon journey on foot to find safety with a family member in Northern Sudan.
He became one of Sudan’s “Lost Boys” — roughly 20,000 young people, mostly boys, who were displaced during the war.
Eventually, Maker made his way to the United States to live with relatives. He enrolled in high school in New Hampshire and was encouraged by a gym teacher to pursue what he saw as an untapped natural talent.
“I didn’t realize running was a sport,” remembers Maker, who is now 36. “When the coach asked if I was ready to run I said, ‘Ready to run where?'”
In his new life, Maker learned that running could be more than a way to escape captors. It was a sport with the potential to allow him a better life. Winning the two-mile national indoor championship and other outdoor titles opened the door to college.
He was awarded an athletic scholarship at Iowa State and, after graduating with a degree in chemistry, qualified for the 2012 London Olympics marathon.
But he was an athlete without a country.
The newly formed South Sudan, the place where he ran from as a boy, was not recognized by the International Olympic Committee. He refused to run for Sudan, taking a stand against its oppression, and he had not yet been granted U.S. citizenship.
Maker fought for and won the right to compete as an independent athlete — a feat which he hoped would encourage refugees around the world to feel a sense of hope.
“What can you do to improve your own life and your community?” Maker said. “Look and see if you can find your purpose.”
“Runner” the inspirational story of a two-time Olympic marathoner Guor Maker with a percentage of the proceeds of every ticket to benefit the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon.
The ticket fee for the documentary is $12, and a portion of the proceeds goes to support partner organizations, including the Kentucky Derby Festival.
“In a year where we are all facing unprecedented challenges, Guor Maker’s incredible story provides inspiration and hope to overcoming adversity,” said Matt Gibson, KDF President and CEO. “We’re honored we can help share that story with Louisville and our local running community.”
Tickets to the virtual screening can be purchased at https://runner.vhx.tv/products/runner-hosted-by-kentucky-derby-festival-marathon. Once you purchase a ticket you have 72 hours to watch the film. July 24 is the final day to buy a ticket. Purchase of a ticket also gives you access to online Q&A sessions with Maker and the film’s director Bill Gallagher on June 20 and 23.
Told using intimate interviews, news reports, running footage from his high school races and his London and Rio Olympic appearances, “Runner” also uses animated flashbacks of Maker’s boyhood in Sudan culminating in a heart-wrenching reunion with his parents after a 20-year separation.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, “Runner” had screened at more than a dozen film festivals and won multiple awards. Now you can see the inspirational film in your living room.
“We know our runners can relate to Guor Maker’s passion for the sport,” Gibson said. “More than just about running, the ‘Runner’ documentary encourages us all to find our greater purpose.”
Reach Kirby Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @kirbylouisville. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/kirby.