The battle for ING NYCM, November 1, 2009, photo by PhotoRun.net.
Merhawi Keflezighi is Meb’s brother and agent. One normally finds him, in the background, after one of Meb’s wins, checking on his brother, making sure that Meb’s sponsors are managed, and checking in with the media. He is a man of quiet confidence, and I like him. He is a good yin to Meb’s yang.
I understand the brother connection. Brothers speak without words, they are connected, as one has said, “by umbilical cord” throughout life. I have asked, and received, permission from Merhawi to reprint a note he sent to his media friends on some of the detritus that developed after Meb’s win. I knew that some comments would come about Meb’s family coming from Eritrea.
The fact remains, Meb’s story is the story of nearly 300 million Americans: immigrant family, parents seeking better, kids go to school, work hard. In this case, Meb did all of his running in this country, much under two of our best American coaches. My family is Hungarian, Irish and German, each with a unique story.
Here is Merhawi putting the day, his brother, and his family in perspective:
Thanks for the overwhelming amount of support and exposure you have given Meb and his amazing accomplishment. I am not one to dictate what type of coverage Meb’s accomplishment should receive. Meb has done his job and accomplished a life long personal and generational industry-wide dream. Now it is up to the rest of us to put this achievement in its proper context.
Meb’s victory in the 2009 ING New York City Marathon is obviously very significant, newsworthy and historical, but it also has a personal element to every individual, organization and other entities involved with Meb ( Meb the individual, family, SD community, Mammoth, UCLA, Eritreans, Italians, Nike, PowerBar, NYRR, New York City, the Marathon, the running industry, sports media, the running media which has followed Meb for a long time, long time fans, new fans, etc.). With so many affected entities, I don’t expect Meb’s victory to mean the same thing to everyone.
But first and foremost, let’s respect the athletic achievement. On Sunday, November 1, 2009, Meb conquered the ING New York City Marathon, in which the NYRR had assembled their greatest men’s field ever. Meb conquered the course and the competition. He ran a personal best time in one of the most difficult Marathon courses, and his time stands as one of the top times run on this New York City course. And Meb also conquered the conditions: every runner on Sunday complained about the strong winds on race day.
Meb took advantage of humbling lessons he learned in his marathon career to be victorious in NYC 2009.
1. Team Meb trained hard, but smart and Meb came to NYC at 100% health and great fitness.
2. There were health concerns with the flu going around, so Meb kept very low key before the race. With a great chance to win the race, Meb understood a victory would be more meaningful to any sponsor, race organizer or friend, than obligations before the race. We appreciate the NYRR, Nike, PowerBar and friends for understanding and respecting this position.
3. Meb held himself back at 1st avenue. At this point Meb was running with his head instead of his emotions. He was feeling great, but didn’t want to push the pace. Meb’s motto was stay within striking distance.
4. Meb ran behind Robert Cheriyout, just like Stefano Badlini sat on Meb for a mile during the 2004 Olympic Marathon.
5. When Meb made his move, he made it count. It was a strong and race defining move that solidified Meb’s victory.
So many things have to go right in a marathon and Meb made all those things go right. All the things didn’t just happen for Meb, Meb knew he would have to run smart and strong and take risks in order to put himself in position to win the race. Meb believed he could win the ING NYC Marathon starting with his debut in 2002, and everyday until Nov. 1, 2009. Meb believed it, never let the dream expire, and ultimately he achieved it!
There is no better story of persistence and overcoming obstacles. The last two years are a microcoism of Meb life, that of the potential of US distance running, and the universal life experience. Running and sports are metaphors for life. Meb’s achievement on Sunday transcended running and sports.
The morning of the race, Jim Gerwick told me, Meb is laser focused. I mentioned that while Meb was always focused, this laser focus was balanced with an amazingly relaxed approach. The quite confidence with which Meb spoke and walked in the weeks leading to the race was contagious on his team. Meb first and foremost TRULY believes in himself, so that makes it so easy for those that KNOW him to believe in him. Meb illustrates his self-confidence with his approach, consistency, determination and incredible work ethc. There is no way to put into words just how priceless these characteristics are in a champion. Yordanos, Meb’s wife is amazingly supportive. If there is one person that believes in Meb more than Meb, it is Yordanos. And this belief is not solely based on being on a loyal wife. A woman who TRULY did not BELIEVE in her husband would not be capable or willing to make the daily sacrifices Yordanos made and will continue to make. Example, Yordanos and the kids sleep on a different floor of their Mammoth home when Meb is training. Giving Meb the chance to get proper overnight sleep and naps during the day, proper meal intake, emotional support, and spiritual support are some of the most significant forms of support Yordanos provides on a daily basis. She even pointed out to Meb some race patterns from 2004 and 2005 that woudl allow him to win this year.
Meb is a pretty serious gentleman, he takes life very seriously, he takes his position as a role model very seriously, and his approach to everything is very business-like. That is where his daughters Sara and Fiyori come in. They keep Meb from being too serious. They always win that battle and Meb is a better athlete because the relaxation required to deal with his daughters is mandatory and natural. After a play session with the girls and he attacks his training multiple times a day, there is plenty of that stored up seriousness to go around. Meb’s family values are derived from his parents and Yordanos’ parents. Meb’s family is the most consistent source of unconditonal support and love.
Meb has assembled a great team to support his athletic goals. Coach Bob Larsen is Meb’s coach of 15 years, since Meb’s freshman year at UCLA. Coach Bob Larsen retired from 20 years of coaching at UCLA to focus on coaching Meb and in the process develop American distance running. In 1998, Meb wrote a letter to Alberto Salazar and said it was his goal to “become one of the best runners in the world in the 5k, 10k, and marathon, and lead the resurgence in American distance running.”. (We have a copy of this prophetic letter, for the right price :))
Meb set out on this goal, along with Coach Larsen, Coach Vigil and Deena Kastor, and they achieved their indiviual athletic goals in 2004 in Athens, and inspired training groups and individuals to do what we are seeing in the USA today. It is not fair to not give these 4 individuals the credit for having the vision, creating the structure, and accomplishing their individual and industry goals. Of course many entities provided the support required to carry out this vision (including Alan Steinfeld and Mary Wittenberg of NYRR, and Running USA, the Mammoth community and others (Coach Larsen is the best person to indicate who were the early supporters and who stayed on and joined later). But I would like to mention that Nike and John Cappriotti were early supporters of the the former Team Running USA Mammoth.
That team is now Mammoth Track Club, and it has evolved but the objective is still as it was before, develop Olympic and World Championship medalists. In addition to Coach Larsen, Meb works very closely with his Mammoth Track Club teammates and coach Terrence Mahon, and support team Tomas Rodriquez and Dirk.
Meb’s team includes many people that Meb can mention more specifically, but does include good friend, exercise physiology and nutrition consultant Dr. Krista Austin. Meb stayed with Krista for over two months while he was rehabbing in Colorado Springs between September 2008- late November 2008.
As Meb always says, he is grateful to everyone that has helped him along the way, whether it is family, friends, race organizers, sponsors, media, teammates, coaches, consultants, fans, competitors, teachers and of course none of this would be possible without GOD!
Let me end this piece on Meb, with an illustation of how Meb’s victory and the media coverage of his victory transcended our sport:
On Monday, November 2nd, Meb was invited and honored at the New York Knicks game against the New Orleans Hornets. Before they announced Meb’s name to the spectators, Meb was hanging out courtside. Chris Paul, a member of the 2008 Olympic Basketball Redeem Team (I think) and current star of the Hornets, came up to chat with Meb in between his warm-up shots. Chris Paul, a super star in his own right, and his reaction to meeting Meb left me amazed by the impact Meb’s victory has made and will continue to make. Chris Paul, better known as CP3, told Meb, “I can’t believe you did a push-up after finishing the marathon.”. He proceeded to request that the media on the court take a picture of him and Meb together. Chris Paul then wanted a guarantee, “Hey Meb, if I get this photograph, will you autograph it for me?” To which Meb responded “of course.”. As Chris Paul departed back to his warm-up, he commented, “I can’t wait to tell my mom I met you.”. For a lifelong fan of basketball and small point guards, this scene with Meb and Chris Paul is a source of great pride in Meb as my brother, client and great athlete, but even more so as a great ambassador for the sport of running!
Thank you Fred Lebow and the NYRR for creating and developing the New York City Marathon, the event that has allowed Meb to shine brighter than ever!
Director, HAWI Management
Handling Adversity With Integrity
Proud manager, brother and fan of Meb Keflezighi
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile
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