Guor Marial discusses his life in Concord and South Sudan in new documentary

  • Guor Marial (right), a 2005 Concord High graduate, competes in Australia’s Gold Coast Marathon in July 2016 in an attempt to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. That race is part of the new documentary Runner, which is being released virtually on Friday and has been winning award after award on the festival circuit.  Courtesy

  • Guor Marial, a 2005 Concord High graduate, trains in San Antonio, Texas. Marial is the subject of the new documentary film, “Runner,” which tells the story of his life from South Sudanese refugee to Olympic marathoner and is being virtually released on Friday.  Courtesy

  • Guor Marial, a 2005 Concord High graduate, trains in San Antonio, Texas. Marial remembers his time in Concord fondly. In fact, when members of his family decided to move to Manchester, Murial stayed behind, living with local families. Courtesy

  • Guor Marial, a 2005 Concord High graduate, competes in Australia’s Gold Coast Marathon in July 2016 in an attempt to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics. That race is part of the new documentary Runner, which is being released virtually on Friday and has been winning award after award on the festival circuit.  Courtesy

  • Concord’s Guor Marial, then known as Guor Majak, tries to get ahead of a Portsmouth runner in 2004. You can view the documentary “Runner” starting today at redrivertheaters.org. Preston Gannaway / Monitor file

  • Guor Marial, then known as Guor Majak, crosses the finish line first at the 2004 Capital Area Cross-Country Invitational at Belmont High School. Guor had not run competitively until he arrived in Concord. Lori Duff / Monitor file

Monitor staff
Published: 6/18/2020 2:45:49 PM

The story of Guor Marial – 2005 Concord High grad, Olympic marathoner, South Sudanese hero – has become the story of a nation, of 60 million refugees worldwide, of hope. Without Concord, it may have been told differently.

“I didn’t envision Concord playing such a huge role, but it actually is the catalyst of this story, this film,” said Bill Gallagher, who recounts Marial’s life in the new documentary Runner.

Concord became home for Marial, who was known as Guor Majak when he first arrived in New Hampshire. He has also been known as Guor Mading Maker and will be known simply as Guor (pronounced gore) for the rest of this story.

Concord is where Guor learned that running, which he’d used to save his life as a child, was also a sport. It’s where he made the life-altering decision to, as Gallagher said, “stick with running, stick with Concord and trust these people.”

“These people” include former Concord High cross country coach Rusty Cofrin and Guor’s CHS teammates Tim Metcalf and Pete Samuels and their families, who all supported Guor when he was a new refugee and high school student in New Hampshire. They all appear in Runner, which is being released virtually on Friday and has been winning award after award on the festival circuit.

Concord appears early in the film with picturesque drone shots of the New Hampshire State House and Main St. backed by uplifting music and quotes from Guor. Asked what he thought about Concord’s place in the documentary, Guor painted his own eloquent picture.

“Well, I always tell people you cannot go very high without having the support of people lifting you up to that level, and I’m just thankful for what Concord, New Hampshire has done for me,” Guor said from Colorado Springs, Colo., where he is an Airman First Class and in the Air Force’s World Class Athlete Program training full time for a spot in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. “I’m really fortunate I landed in such a community. Concord did a phenomenal job way before the documentary, when I first landed in 2002, the community welcomed me, and I just have to thank God or every person in New Hampshire.”

Guor lost eight of his nine siblings to war in Sudan, was living on his own by age 8 and endured a series of brutal hardships before arriving in New Hampshire with an aunt, uncle and cousin. It wasn’t long after that when Concord High teacher and coach Eric Brown, who also appears in Runner, recognized Guor’s athletic talent in a fitness class and arranged for a meeting with Cofrin. The cross country coach decided to test out his new recruit by taking Guor on a two-mile run around the track at Memorial Field.

“I couldn’t keep up with him,” Cofrin said in the film. “He finished and the kids were laughing. He beat me by about 100 yards. And so, at the end, I said, ‘Can you start tomorrow?’”

When Guor’s family moved to Manchester while he was still in high school, Guor chose to stay in Concord and was taken in by families like the Metcalfs and Samuels so he could finish high school at CHS. He won the 2004 NHIAA Meet of Champions cross country title and was a national two-mile champion for the Crimson Tide before graduating in 2005. He went on to become an All-American at Iowa State, where he earned a chemistry degree in 2011.

In that same year, Guor ran an Olympic-qualifying time in his first-ever marathon. It was an eye-opening achievement, and the running world took notice, but Guor didn’t have a country to run for in the 2012 London Olympics. South Sudan had just become an independent nation and didn’t have the necessary national Olympic committee, and Guor refused to run for Sudan, which offered him a spot on its team but was also the government that had brought war to his homeland for so long.

“The choice that he took really did nothing but warm people’s hearts to Guor amongst South Sudanese,” Jacob Lagu, a South Sudanese activist, said in Runner.

That’s when the rest of the world started hearing Guor’s story, including Gallagher. The Worcester, Mass., native was living in Spain and looking to make a documentary when he first read about Guor. Eventually, the International Olympic Committee agreed to let Guor run in the 2012 Games as an independent athlete (he finished 47th in the marathon) and Guor agreed to let Gallagher make a movie about his life.

“To be honest, I had no idea what a documentary even was, and then when I found out I thought, why would someone want to do a movie about me, first of all, and I didn’t want anyone to talk to me about my life, I just wanted to be an athlete,” Guor said. “But I think the exposure I started to get in New Hampshire helped a little bit to cope with the media and also with the documentary. So, I thought, okay, this is not the first time I’ve been interviewed, this is not the first time I had a camera follow me around, so I think I can do what (Gallagher) wants.”

The first calls Gallagher made for interviews for Runner were to people in Concord. Like it did with Guor back in 2002, the city embraced the filmmaker.

“Everybody just opened their arms to us and the crew” Gallagher said. “Everybody was so cool with having us shoot in their home and take over their home for the whole day and they really rolled out the red carpet for us to just do what we needed to do to tell Guor’s story.”

It’s not an easy story to tell, especially for the subject.

“Telling the story about my life and my journey, that was the most difficult thing,” Guor said, “to sit on camera and try to explain what happened.”

The telling was helpful for his own healing process, Guor said, but he’s more interested in how it can help others.

“It felt good, but I will just wait and see how this documentary will reach people and how people will react to it and whether it will change people’s lives or if they will learn from it and learn about South Sudan and learn about refugees who came to the U.S. and elsewhere in the world and everything the refugees have to go through,” Guor said. “If people can take it and use it for their own education and also to see the other in a different perspective, then I think that’s when I will say, ‘wow, this was a great thing to do’ because it was for a good cause.”

Concord’s Red River Theatres is one of the movie theaters participating in Friday’s virtual release and you can watch Runner by going to redrivertheaters.org. For a complete list of ways to watch and more information on the film, go to runnerdoc.com.


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