“Running is like life. You start at the same place with your fellow runners. You all finish at the same place. How you do is largely up to you. If you win, you congratulate your team and yourself. If you lose, you evaluate how to improve. You can’t make excuses like “he didn’t pass me the ball” or “the coach didn’t put me in.” It’s on you. That’s the beauty of the sport.” – Keflezighi, Meb, “Run To Overcome”, Tyndale House Publishers, Carol Stream, Illinois 2010.
This book is the Meb story and what a story it is. Meb begins with a recount of him and his family being a victim of the war between Eriterea (birthplace) and Ethiopia. With detail Meb recalls being born into this war, fleeing for safety, family survival, his father leaving under political pressure (reunited later), dodging land mines, enduring famine, escaping to Italy, and finally landing in the USA in sunny San Diego. No English spoken here. Just landing in California with the clothes they wore. What a beginning.
What impressed me about the early Meb story was the will to survive, both personally and as a family. Maybe it was the Eriterean roots or culture but this family was selfless in supporting, caring and taking care of each other. This familial characteristic was best displayed after siblings graduated from college, attained professional positions and then pooled enough money to buy their parents a home in San Diego, away from a trouble neighborhood. Wow.
A second impression was Meb and his entire family recognized opportunity here in the United States. Advance college degrees, positions of prominence with employers and yes his success running as a professional. Bonding with an American family, Meb honed his English by reading aloud the sports section of the local paper en route to out-of-town meets. Favorite sport in his early years? Soccer. Running a mile during a school physical education class for a grade turned his life in a new direction. I would call that opportunity.
Meb’s success in high school caught the attention of Bob Larsen, UCLA Head Track and Field, Cross Country Coach. This union is one that extends beyond college – a partnership forged during his time at UCLA. They are still working together as athlete and coach. What impressed me about his collegiate success was the progress to reach the point where he asked himself “could I do this professionally?”. His double 5000 and 10,000 meter wins at the 1997 NCAA Outdoor Nationals didn’t hurt his chances!
Fast forward a number of years – Meb is well on his way cementing his success across the US and Olympic stages. However, all was not easy for Meb. He shares a period of his life where injuries, a sour business venture, loss of sponsor monies, death of close friends all seemed to doom any hopes of returning to full speed. It is at this juncture in the story Meb’s faith in God is evident. Frequently throughout the book Meb references an enduring faith – much like the mega miles he has run.
New York, Boston, Chicago, US Olympic Trials, the Olympics, take your pick, Meb has run with the world’s best. Maybe it was his desire to overcome the seemingly insurmountable odds being born in a war torn country. Maybe it is his natural talent. Maybe a mix of his faith, family, and his will to win and love of running that keeps him going. I have a new appreciation for the man who has worn our USA jersey on the big stage. This book as a great read.
Up next – the Lopez story. Until then – enjoy the run!