Players PromiseSep 05, 2018

Players Promise: Lawrence Olum

Lawrence Olum's untraditional path to the MLS has made him who he is today. Although he grew up in a sports minded family, Olum never seriously thought he had the chance to become a professional athlete one day. That changed when he was discovered on the streets of Nairobi by a college coach from the U.S. From there, Olum left his home country and went on to play four years at Missouri Baptist University. After college, Olum spent time in the USL and MLS with the Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City. After a stint in the Malaysia Premiere League, Olum was traded from Kansas City back to the Timbers in 2017. 

Now, Olum's history serves as his motivation to give back to children in Kenya. After spending years sending equipment back to his old neighborhood, Olum decided to make things official and start the Lawrence Olum Foundation to promote education and sports. Through his foundation, Olum is striving to give these kids access to organized sports, and inspire them to pursue both athletics and higher education. 

Q: Where did you grow up? Can you tell us a little about your life as a child?

Lawrence Olum: I was born and raised Nairobi Kenya, which is the capital of Kenya with a population of about 4 million. The area I grew up is called Embakassi Kenya Pipeline estate. I  grew up in a middle class family with both parents having worked in Kenya government institutions. My family was sports oriented with both parents playing volleyball for the Kenyan national team. My life as a child in regards to my surroundings was good. I was raised a single child. I can say I never needed for anything. My parents both made sure I got what I needed. I went through very decent schools throughout my schooling years, which enabled me to get good education. My life as child was quite balanced. Going from living with my grandparents in the rural country and with my parents in the city was a blast of everything that made me who I am. 

Q: You had a unique journey to the MLS - can you describe how you were initially discovered in Kenya?

Olum: I was discovered playing street ball in Nairobi. At this point we were playing for the city council of Nairobi who at the time was looking to have an exchange program with the city of Denver. Coach Jared Embik, who is currently at the University of Akron, was then the head coach at Missouri Baptist University. He had one of his friends in Kenya who spotted us playing at one of the local games. He approached the coach and inquired about a couple of us who impressed him. We later got introduced to each other and he told us what he was looking for and asked if we were interested in playing collegiate soccer in the US. The rest is history. 

Q: Did you always want to play professionally? Was it something you aspired to when you were growing up?

Olum: Growing up in a volleyball family it was natural to play that as a first sport. Soccer came as a friendly game between friends. It was not structured, we just met on the small patches of grass and played together between neighborhoods. I never knew I had the opportunity to play professionally because sports was never taken seriously  as a career. There wasn’t that many sportsmen or women apart from the long distant runners who made a living out of sports that we could look up to. Growing up sports was used as a step to get jobs in the government. 

Q: You’ve mentioned before that Kenya is lacking structured sports programs, how did that affect you as you were growing up and developing your soccer skills?

Olum: I can’t say it affected me much now because I am playing in one of the highest leagues in the world, but looking back having a structured program could have made the path easier.  For example, having people who could give you guidance on maybe the technical and tactical aspects of the game which I learned when I was much older in college compared to others who learned when they were younger in high school. 

Q: At what point did you decide to take the leap and start your own foundation?

Olum: I have been supporting kids in my neighborhood for a long time even when I was back in college. I used to ask my coaches for old uniforms,  teammates for old cleats (which I still do) to take back to guys I played with or maybe small teams in my neighborhood. Over time having this platform of playing in the MLS made me and my friends think bout how we can improve and give back to the community that made us who we are. So in early 2017 we decided to make something legitimate that we want to see become significant in Kenya.

Q: What’s the main goal of the Lawrence Olum foundation? How do you hope to impact these kids' lives?

Olum: The main goal of LOF is to promote education and sports. Being a collegiate athlete made me realize you can do both. Someone can actually do both and I am a testimony to that. We want to inspire kids to see that they don’t have to give up one for the other. With good balance and guidance they can achieve both an education at whatever level and still be able to enjoy sports.  

Q: Where do you want to see the foundation in 5 years?

Olum: I want to see the foundation as a major source of inspiration to a lot of kids in Kenya. We want to be a path or guidance for kids who wish to pursue higher levels of education within Kenya and abroad through sports. In a nutshell, if we can produce the likes of “Lawrence Olum" we would have achieved what we started out to do. We would love to be an organization that brings structured organized sports to kids who want to use sports as a path to higher education or professionally. We want to provide a top level sports infrastructure and system that is on par with the rest of the developing world. 

Q: How can people get involved and help?

Olum: People can get involved by following us on our website and all our social media outlets. Supporting our cause by donating money, gear or equipment to the programs that we have. One can also be a volunteer and give their time to become a mentor to our programs. 

Learn more about the Lawrence Olum Foundation on their website, and follow their work in Kenya on TwitterInstagram and Facebook