Yiech Pur Biel: From refugee to Olympian

Yiech Pur Biel: From refugee to Olympian

Athletic director Kim Chandler gifts Pur a Macalester Athletics sweatshirt. Photo by Rajnee Persaud ’19.
Athletic director Kim Chandler gifts Pur a Macalester Athletics sweatshirt. Photo by Rajnee Persaud ’19.
It’s not everyday that an Olympian stops by to chat with Macalester athletes. However, this past Saturday was especially remarkable because the Olympian in question was Yiech Pur Biel, who competed this summer for the first Refugee Olympic Team at the Rio Games. In town for the American Refugee Committee’s annual gala, the 21 year old stopped by the Leonard Center for a run and to share his story with a gathering of Scots and community members.

“Running has changed the course of my life,” Pur said. “I keep on going because one day, one time I will make it because I have faith in myself and in God.”

Born in what is now South Sudan and orphaned at a young age, Pur lived in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya for nearly a decade attending school and mostly playing soccer. Soon after he graduated from high school in 2015, he found out the Tegla Loroupe Foundation was hosting trials for a running program, and initially began running barefoot around Kakuma. Placing third in a 10 kilometer competition, he qualified to train at a center near Nairobi and was subsequently selected to compete in the 2016 Games in the 800 meter race. Just six months after beginning his journey as a runner, Pur became an Olympian.

As Pur recalled the joy of the opening ceremonies, many in the audience similarly remembered the roar of cheers that greeted the 10 athletes competing on the inaugural Olympic refugee team when the athletes walked into Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. That team of 10 was representing 65.3 million refugees worldwide.

“My mission is to show the world that refugees can do anything, be anything,” he said. “You never know what tomorrow holds, anyone can be a refugee but everyone can also dream.”

Before the conversation, several members of the Men’s Cross Country team joined Pur for a speed workout. It was a chance for all to push the pace. “Even though we were all focused on the workout, I couldn’t help but be amazed at how disciplined he ran,” Jake Lepak ’20 said. “He looked very smooth and relaxed, but he always had this other gear and would just throw the hammer down.”

Going forward Pur has two goals—to qualify for and compete well in the 2020 Tokyo Games and to continue his education with a university degree.

He advised that self-reliance, discipline, and hard work can take you anywhere you dream: “I want to tell you, my fellow youth, that there is no ceiling for what you can do.”

December 9, 2016

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