Meb Keflezighi, a distance runner who has gained fame for his extraordinary spirit on the course. In this two part series Capt Seshadri profiles this prolific runner
In his long career as a distance runner, this athlete has run 28 international marathons and is believed to have signed more than 30,000 autographs!
In a tiny war-torn country in East Africa, once called Eritrea, which fought a cruel war for over 30 years for liberation from Ethiopia, Mebrahtom ‘Meb’ Keflezighi, was one of 10 children whose early childhood memories were more associated with fatal encounters and dismemberment of his friends and neighbours from warring factions. His first brush with distance running probably occurred at age 10 when he saw his first car and took rapidly to his heels, thinking it was a ‘death machine’. He was later to grin and tell the New York Times: “that was one of the races I lost”. In 1989, at age 14, with his parents having migrated to Italy, Meb watched television for the first time and was left wondering how such big people could get into such a small box.
This was the kid who would ultimately transit from such ignorant beginnings in his home country to becoming a much sought after motivational speaker and brand ambassador to some of the world’s best-known corporates. This is the story that should go down in the annals of sporting history as the marathon of life!
Meb’s family moved to San Diego in 1987 where he began running in earnest. From 5 km and 10 km runs in San Diego High School and UCLA, he graduated both in academics and athletics, winning several medals in championships at the State and then the National levels. With the 2004 marathon silver medal under his belt, he ran on to win the 2009 New York Marathon and then the Boston Marathon in 2014, in the process, bringing gold medal glory to America for the first time after 1982. With this Herculean effort, at an age when most runners are reading about marathons than running them, Meb became the sole marathoner in history to win the New York and Boston Marathons as well as an Olympic medal. He was to continue competitive running at the highest level even at age 41, qualifying for the Rio Olympics 2016.
Setbacks never bothered him as, during the 2008 US Olympic marathon trials, he broke his hip and could not qualify despite finishing eighth, with the debilitating injury. During the same race, his misery was compounded by the death of his close friend and running mate, Ryan Shay, who died of coronary failure. He rebounded the very next year, winning the 2009 New York Marathon in a personal best time of 2:09:15. In 2010, his achievements were etched in UCLA memory, with his induction into its Hall of Fame.
Runner, writer, trainer, motivational speaker and more. His autobiography titled “Run to overcome” deals with issues of his early life, his milestones and his achievements. MEB Foundation, an acronym of his name that reads ‘Maintaining Excellent Balance’ promotes the values of healthy living and provides a motivational and inspirational platform for school-going youth. In 2014, Meb Keflezighi’s achievements were aptly recognized with the Jesse Owens Award as the USATF Athlete of the Year.
Forty years and running, when even vehicles made of steel are considered vintage.
Read Nine Days a week for the conclusion of this story
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Capt Seshadri Sreenivasan is a former armed forces officer with over 30 years experience in marketing. He also a consulting editor with a leading publishing house. He is a co-author of the best selling biography of astronaut Sunita Williams.