Olympic runner Julius Achon strives to help Uganda
The world is full of inspirational people, but few match the character and spirit of Julius Achon, a two-time Olympic runner from Uganda who has lived through dramatic tragedies and equally dramatic triumphs.
Achon was abducted at age 12 by rebels during Uganda's bloody civil war and forced to be a child soldier. After escaping, he turned to running and eventually represented Uganda twice in the Olympics. Now he is also pursuing a communication degree at the University of Phoenix Oregon Campus. Despite personal hardships and loss during the war, Achon strives to help the people of his country.
For Achon, his "way out" was running. He started running at age 13, inspired by Uganda's John Akii-Bua, a 1972 Olympic gold-medal winner in hurdling. Achon had no running shoes, so he ran barefoot through the streets of his village. He entered a county footrace and qualified for the district championships in Lira, about 40 miles away. Because transportation wasn't available, Achon ran for six hours just to get to the race. "I didn't have money to buy food, but I would feed on sugar cane on my lunch break," he says.
He won all three races that day and eventually landed at the World Junior Championships in 1994 in Portugal, becoming the first Ugandan runner to win a gold medal. After a flurry of media attention and college recruitment offers, Achon attended George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. That first year, he helped his team win the 1996 NCAA Indoor Championships and entered his first Olympic games in Atlanta. He later competed in the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, qualifying for the semifinals.
But the worst was not over for Achon. Three years later, on a trip to Uganda, he discovered 11 orphans sleeping under a bus. He convinced his father to take them in and agreed to send money to help. Then, in 2004, his mother, along with his aunt and her seven grandchildren, were killed by rebels. The event haunts him still and virtually ruined his running career, he says.
Even though the war has ended, the poverty level in Uganda remains high, and Achon has vowed to make a difference. In 2007, he founded the Achon Uganda Children's Fund, a nonprofit organization that aims to improve access to health care, clean water and education, as well as provide infrastructure. His first major project — a medical clinic with solar power — is scheduled to be completed this year.
"There are many people dying in my village because of no medical care," he says. Next, he hopes to buy some land to also build a new school.
Achon says his father, who still lives in northern Uganda, encouraged him to make a difference. "The way I grew up," he adds, "I prepared myself to help people."
Want to help? Check out the Achon Uganda Children's Fund.
Photo credits: Achon Uganda Children's Fund