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Last Year, This Indonesian Runner Couldn't Afford Shoes — Now He's a Gold Medalist

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Runner Lalu Muhammad Zohri comes from one of Indonesia’s poorest provinces. Barely able to afford running shoes, he fought against all odds to pursue his dreams. Everyone deserves the opportunity to realize their potential, regardless of where they come from. You can join us in the fight to end extreme poverty by taking action here

Just one year ago, Lalu Muhammad Zohri could barely afford a pair of running shoes. On Wednesday, the 18-year-old sprinted past the 100-meter finish line at the International International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) world under-20 championships and made history.

Zohri finished the race in 10.18 seconds and took home the gold medal, making him the first Indonesian athlete to medal at the competition — and people across the country are celebrating the historic victory.

Given the many hurdles he had to overcome, Zohri’s win is not just surprising; it’s momentous.

The teen is from a small village on the island of Lombok, just east of the popular tourist destination spot Bali. And while Lombok, too, boasts pristine waters and welcomes tourists, the island is part of one of Indonesia’s poorest provinces, West Nusa Tenggara.

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Approximately 17% of West Nusa Tenggara’s population lived in poverty in 2014 and nearly half of children in the province suffered from stunting due to chronic undernutrition, according to data collected in 2011.

Growing up in Lombok, Zohri often trained barefoot, his sister told Kompas, a local media outlet.

“He asked me for [money] to buy new shoes before going to Jakarta to continue competing abroad. I could only give him what I had. He has always been a quiet person and has never demanded anything,” she said. “He aspires to make his family proud and build a house.”

In a video shared by CNN Indonesia, Zohri’s family and neighbors are seen watching his win from their village via smartphone.

Though he is overjoyed by the victory, Zohri already has his eyes set on his next big race.

“I'm very happy with my PB [personal best] and national junior record. Now, I will prepare for the Asian Games next month,” he said after winning, according to IAAF. “I'm so proud — this was an amazing experience and this is great for my career.”

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Indonesians, including President Joko Widodo, were elated by the victory and will be watching Zohri at next month’s Asian Games in Jakarta.