On November 1, 2009, during the 40th running of the New York City Marathon, Mebrahtom Keflezighi (pronounced Kef-lez-ghee), better known as just Meb, secured a place in history by becoming the first American since Alberto Salazar in 1982 to win the largest marathon in the world. His journey to the pinnacle of distance running has been called one of the best illustrations of the American Dream.
Meb has a habit of making history. In one of the most dramatic Olympic Marathons ever, Meb won a Silver Medal during the 2004 Olympics despite being ranked 39th out of 100 of the world’s best marathoners. As the Silver Medal winner for the USA, Meb attracted new fans around the globe as he was awarded his Silver Medal in front on millions of viewers. Seventy days later, Meb would stun the track and field world by finishing second in the prestigious 2004 ING New York City marathon.
“You make us so proud Meb!” a woman with an American flag yelled from the stands as Meb crossed the finish line of the ING NYC Marathon. This time, Meb had finished third at the 2005 ING NYC Marathon, and represented the United States on the medal stand for the second year in a row. After years of racking up national honors, Meb has vaulted himself and his truly inspiring story into the international spotlight. Always encouraging others to “Run To Win” in sport and in life, Meb’s victory in the 2009 New York City Marathon demonstrated that philosophy.
Commonly considered “the top US distance runner” for almost a decade by USA Track & Field, Meb has astonished coaches ever since he ran a 5:20 mile in junior high. Meb’s athletic success at the high school level and A grades attracted the attention of the best universities in the nation. Coach Bob Larsen offered Meb a full scholarship to the University of California-Los Angeles, a rare opportunity for a distance runner. As an undergraduate at UCLA, Meb won four NCAA titles in one year. Meb’s accomplishments have earned him the title as “The Greatest Distance Runner in UCLA History” and an induction to the prestigious UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame. Meb’s special relationship with Coach Larsen started in 1994, when Meb was a freshman and continues today.
After Meb earned his B.A. in Communication Studies with a specialization in Business at UCLA, he pursued a career as a professional runner. During his transition from collegiate to professional running, Meb notified his potential sponsors of his goal to be one of the best distance runners in the world. As a result of his athletic potential, great personality and million-dollar smile, Meb has been sponsored by Nike since 1998, and has extended his contract until 2010. Meb’s persistence has enabled him to focus on his athletic development from a national class runner to one of the best in the world. Meb now enjoys support from PowerBar, Generation UCAN, Sony Walkman.
Meb has persevered through stints of injuries after college and an almost career-ending injury in the 2008 season to achieve remarkable success. This spirit of endurance is fueled by his parents’ fervent determination to save their family from the gruesome 30-year war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Knowing that his life was threatened by the Ethiopian regime, Meb’s father fled the country and worked for four years as a laborer to save his family. The family reunited in Italy where they lived for two years before arriving in San Diego in 1987. Despite the language barriers and life as immigrants, Meb and his ten siblings have created their own legacy by making education their number one priority. Among the children who are out of high school, they hold seven undergraduate degrees, an MBA, a MD, a JD, a Stanford University graduate, and current students at UCSD and UC Berkeley. In 1998, Meb became a US citizen but still possesses dual-citizenship with Eritrea. In international competition, Meb represents the USA, including in two Olympic Games and several world championships.
For many Eritreans, Meb symbolizes what their families fought for in the war with Ethiopia: the freedom to succeed. For long distance running fans, Meb is a role model who has rejuvenated interest in the sport. To the American public, Meb symbolizes what is possible when we take advantage of the resources and opportunities around us. According to Ghebre Selassie Mehreteab, the CEO of the NHP Foundation, “Meb is an inspiration to all new Americans and his story demonstrates the power of the American Dream.”
Meb is the author of “Run To Overcome,” about his journey from humble beginnings in Eritrea to winning the New York City Marathon. Meb is also the founder of the MEB Foundation (Maintaining Excellent Balance) to promote health, education and fitness.