Rose Nathike Lokonyen is a 23-year-old athlete and refugee from South Sudan. And in August, she will head to the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics to compete in a team of 10 refugee Olympic athletes where she will run in the women’s 800m dash.

Lokonyen’s unlikely path to Rio started in the South Sudan 13 years ago. That’s when she fled her home country at the age of 10. She was living in the Kakuma refugee camp and attending school when a teacher suggested she compete in a 10-kilometer race. She had never run competitively before.

“Some of us ran without shoes, like me; I was just running barefoot. When it’s too hot [your] foot can get injuries,” she said in a video submitted to the International Olympic Committee.  

With no training whatsoever, Lokonyen came in second place.

“I had not been training. It was the first time for me to run, and I came number two,” she told told the United Nations Refugee Agency.

She’s come a long way since then, training each day in Kenya to prepare for the Olympics in Rio. She ran her first professional race a year ago.

At first, she had concern about injuries since she was training without a coach or even running shoes. She never saw running as a sport or career path.

In the past year, however, she’s been able to train near Nairobi, Kenya, where she and her siblings live and has changed her perspective. Lokonyen now believes running can take her anywhere.

While conflict rising in South Sudan and Kenya’s tragic decision to close refugee camps, Lokonyen carries hope that she can bring peace and unite people watching her compete in the Olympics in August.

“I will be representing my people there at Rio, and maybe if I succeed I can come back and conduct a race that can promote peace, and bring people together,” she told UNHCR.

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‘I Was Just Running Barefoot:’ Now Rose Is Sprinting for Gold

By Meghan Werft