Julius Achon grew up in the small village Awake, 40 miles northeast of Lira in northern Uganda. Julius was raised in poverty during the civil war. At age 12, he was kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army, a militant coalition that rebelled against the Uganda government, and was forced to become a child soldier. Three months later, Julius managed to escape and ran 300km back home.
He was eager to build a better future. When he saw a plane flying over he asked his dad how he could get into that plane. His father told him he should become a runner. So Julius started to run and compete.
He had no money for shoes or transportation, so to be able to join a race at county level he decided to run 72 kilometers to make it to the start of the event. It didn’t make him feel tired at all because his main reason to make it into the race was to win a free scholarship.
“I wanted one time to be in the Olympics and be flying on the plane as my dad was telling me.” So the next morning Julius ran three races without shoes and won.
His talents landed him a scholarship in 1990 to attend school at Makerere High School in the capital city of Kampala.
At age 17, having attracted the attention of several Ugandan sports officials, he entered the 1994 World Junior Championships as the only athlete chosen to represent Uganda in Lisbon, Portugal, and ran the 1,500m.
That was the first time he flew by plane although he still didn’t have any shoes. Fortunately, he could borrow a pair from a Kenyan runner and won a Gold medal. His performance caught the eye of John Cook, an American track coach who brought him to George Mason University in Virginia on a scholarship.
Julius went on to compete for Uganda in the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games, both times serving as captain of the Ugandan Olympic team.
While training near his village in 2003, he encountered a group of orphans and couldn’t help but take them into his home. That was the beginning of the Achon Uganda Children’s Fund.
Today Julius lives in Uganda’s capital of Kampala and travels frequently to his home village of Awake, now the site of the Kristina Health Center, a rural clinic that serves hundreds of severely sick or injured patients every month. Julius was elected to Uganda’s parliament in 2017 and continues to serve today.
His running and coaching career helped him to connect with others and put strength together.
He gives shelter to orphans he found during a morning run, he built a medical centre, and together with Olympic athlete Eloise Wellings he founded Love Mercy in 2010. She promised to fulfill his dream of restoring hope to his village in Northern Uganda and their united efforts empower rural communities in Northern Uganda to overcome poverty after decades of civil war.
Their two main projects, Cents for Seeds and the Kristina Health Centre, increase access to education, health care, and income generation and are funded entirely by generous donations from the public.
“Growing up I never slept on a mattress until I was seventeen,” Julius says.
Now kids who take part in a race that is organized by Julius’ foundation and sponsored by Nike, can win a mattress!
In 2019 people could join the November Adventure, a 10-day adventure through northern Uganda, where they met women in the Cents for Seeds program, ran with Julius and visited the banks of the Nile.