Airman 1st Class Guor Maker fled war and slavery in South Sudan almost 20 years ago, came to the United States, and has become a college graduate, an Olympian, and, now, an airman.

As an 8-year-old, Maker, now 33, lost eight of his nine siblings in the Sudanese Civil War and was captured and enslaved twice, once by Sudanese soldiers and once by herdsmen, according to a Joint Base San Antonio press release.

He escaped both times, and in 2001, he and his uncle’s family were granted permission to come to the U.S. He settled in Concord, New Hampshire, where he learned English by watching cartoons, and later received a running scholarship to Iowa State University.

“I wanted to change my life, help my parents back in South Sudan, and give my future children a better childhood than the one I had,” Maker said in the release. “And the only way to do that was through education and determination.”

He dreamed of qualifying for the Olympics, and he did — one year after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.

But though South Sudan was now independent, they were not a member of the International Olympics Committee. Not yet a U.S. citizen, Maker ran the marathon without a country.

The experience inspired him to bring South Sudan to the Olympics, and in 2016, he was one of three athletes to represent South Sudan in the Olympics for the first time.

Maker, now a dental assistant in technical training, is turning his eye to serving his new country in the Air Force.

Maker hopes to join the Air Force World Class Athlete Program, which gives elite athletes the opportunity compete in national events to train for the Olympics. He wants to qualify for the 2020 Olympics, where he’ll have the opportunity to represent his new home country.

“All of the things I’ve accomplished have derived from the opportunities the U.S. has afforded me,” said Maker. “When I first came to America, I didn’t have hardly anything, but with the support and opportunity this country has given me, I’ve been able to completely change my life.”

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