It took sweat and tears in the face of adversity. But something told Meb Keflezighi not to give up and at the Hall of Champions on Friday, he explained why.
“Even if I finished in fifth place with the time that I had run I would have been happy because I got the best out of myself. I always say run to win, which means get the best out of yourself,” he said.
On Sunday, the San Diego High School alumnus became the first American man to win the New York City Marathon since 1982.
On Friday, he said his inspiration came even earlier than high school. Dick Lord was his seventh grade teacher at Roosevelt Junior High and one day he gave Meb an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“He just said ‘you run hard, you do the best that you can, you’re going to get an A or B. You goof around, you mess around, and you’re going to get D or F. I just took off like a bolt,” Meb said. “My parents always emphasized the education part of it. Education is something that nobody can take away from you. Injures still happen.”
Wearing "USA" on his chest, Keflezighi ran the incredible time of 2 hours, 9 minutes, 15 seconds on Sunday. He pulled away from Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya in the 23rd mile to beat the four-time Boston Marathon champ by 41 seconds.
“About two miles to go, on mile 24, I tried to make a move and test Robert Cheruiyot and he let me go. I said ‘wow, this is sweet’,” Meb said Friday.
Alberto Salazar had been the last American men's champion, taking three straight titles from 1980-82.
Born in Eritrea, the 34-year-old became a U.S. citizen in 1998 after his family fled war to thrive in a new home in San Diego in 1987.
Meb graduated from San Diego High School in 1994 as the first person ever to be awarded the Union Tribune All Academic/Athlete Team Captain two years in a row, according to his biography. He then went on to star at UCLA.
He hobbled to eighth at the trials two years ago, then later found out he had a stress fracture in his hip.
“I was ready to hang my hat in 2007 when I couldn’t walk and not be able to just crawl from place to place. My wife saw me and said, ‘ this is not the way you make a living and you have your UCLA degree and I have my University of South Florida diploma and we can make some other choices.’ But we prayed hard and worked hard and I said, ‘God, show me the light,” he said.
Long days of rehab followed, and he didn't feel 100 percent until early this year.
"A lot of people were kind of starting to write him off, saying he's older and he's had too many injuries and all this," said Hall, Keflezighi's neighbor and occasional training partner.
That day in 2007 he also lost close friend Ryan Shay, who collapsed and died during the race. The loss crippled Meb, but on Sunday, he found strength from the memory of his dear friend.
“‘Lord, help me. Give me his energy to be able to make me win this race,’ and so I tried early and I just have him a ‘may he rest in heaven’ at the place where he passed away,” he said.
The future is bright for Meb and could include Boston and London, but for today, he’s putting the brakes on his sprint to success.
“Right now, we’re just enjoying this beautiful moment,” Meb said.