Almost two decades after being forced to run for his life to escape the violence during Sudan's north-south civil war, Guor Maker was running (under the name of Guor Marial) for peace as an independent athlete under the Olympic flag at the world's greatest sporting event. Although he did not win the marathon at the London Olympics in 2012, he got a gold for perseverance and determination and he helped to focus fresh attention on his country of origin, which had gained independence as South Sudan just a year earlier.
And now, the United States-based athlete is helping to spread awareness - with UNHCR support - about refugees and about the troubled situation in South Sudan, where fighting erupted in late 2013 between the government and rebel forces and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
Born in South Sudan in 1984, a year after the Second Sudanese Civil War broke out, Maker was confronted with the harsh realities of conflict from a young age. He lost 28 family members, including eight siblings, during the war and spent much of his early life on the run. Trying to escape, he was captured and used as forced labour. In 1994, he joined relatives in the Sudan capital, Khartoum, where he remained until leaving for Egypt at the age of 14. Two years later, he went to the United States, where he was granted refugee status.
The young man took full advantage of the educational opportunities and his athletic ability was soon noted. He went to Iowa State University on a scholarship, graduating with a Chemistry degree in 2011. Also in that year, he ran the marathon within the Olympic qualifying time. As South Sudan was unable to register with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in time for the 2012 Games, he was one of four athletes allowed to compete under the IOC flag. He finished in 47th place with a time of 2 hours and 19 minutes.
In June 2013, to mark World Refugee Day - and after nearly 20 years away - Maker returned to his village in South Sudan from his new home in Arizona. Helped by UNHCR, Maker was reunited with his parents and other family members who had last seen him in 1993 before he left for Khartoum. It was an emotional homecoming and he reflected at the time on the cost of war, including the death of siblings from treatable diseases and the suffering of his parents.
His journey so far has been a remarkable one and he hopes that his story will inspire the next generation of South Sudanese talent. As someone who has lived with the consequences of statelessness, his voice will also be important in raising awareness about this important issue as UNHCR pursues a global campaign to end statelessness.