Meb Keflezighi welcomed comrades (and customers) from the High Sierra Striders running club at his book signing on Monday. (Photo: Geisel)
Meb’s story filled with life lessons
Meb Keflezighi’s first book, “Run to Overcome,” which hit bookstore shelves last October, isn’t about winning, and it’s really not about running. The sport, which has catapulted the Mammoth local to superstar status, is an important part of telling his story, but its pages are filled with life lessons as opposed to running advice, and inspiration rather than just another sports figure spending page after page talking about himself. In fact, he didn’t really want to talk much about running.
The book can trace its roots back to a question asked him by the Van Camp family, which knew him as a youngster and whom Meb calls his “academic parents.” They asked what story he’d like to tell if he were to write a book. That question stayed with him for years, and in 2004, a colleague urged him to tell his own story his own way. The first three chapters were started with another writer, but the book we have today was co-written with Dick Patrick, a veteran sports reporter and writer, who had only recently left USA Today. It came together as fast as one of Meb’s race finishes. “We started on it in April 2010 and had it to the publisher [Tyndale House] by June or July,” Meb recounted.
During a book signing on Monday at the Booky Joint, a large group of fans heard an impromptu speech from Keflezighi, and were treated to a preview of the story of family, perseverance and hard work that they would soon be reading.
Mebrahtom “Meb” Keflezighi and his family came to the United States after fleeing their native Asmara, Eritrea, a country located in the horn of Africa, to escape a violent war with Ethiopia. The third of six children, his family was poor. He and his family, particularly his father, came face to face with death numerous times, but every time some event or person intervened, which he’s certain was anything but chance.
His father was separated from the rest of the family, but managed to cross the African continent, making it to Sudan, and then to Italy, where the family reunited, and eventually immigrated to San Diego, Calif. “I arrived in the U.S. with a big old afro,” he recalled.
Contrary to what you might think, Meb may have been a born runner, but he didn’t know it until Junior High. He ran his first mile near the San Diego Zoo. After he ran a 5:20 mile, coaches started realizing the talent they had in their midst. The book recounts his winning the Cross-Country Senior Championships in High School, his time at UCLA, running his first marathon, which Meb said “was a disaster,” winning his first 10k trials in 1998, his first Olympics in 2000, and the trip to the medal podium in Athens in 2004, where he won the Silver in the Men’s Marathon.
“[The team was] probably overprepared for Athens, but we just wanted to be there. We didn’t care what medal we got,” Meb told the crowd.
His family is an important part of his story, but so is his spirituality, which Keflezighi maintains didn’t come from running, but “was there all along.”
Running has been as challenging to him as it’s been rewarding. In 2008, he failed to make the Men’s Marathon team headed for Beijing. Then came the debilitating 2009 pelvis fracture, and the devastating loss of his good friend and training partner, Ryan Shay, who collapsed and died during the Olympic trials.
He points to his injury as something of a turning point. “My career should have been over,” he reasoned. It took him months to get back to running, making him work as never before both mentally and physically. “It’s not what you want; it’s what your body can do.”
Intervention had its way again, allowing him a solid return to form, winning the 2009 NYC Marathon) and Keflezighi isn’t turning a blind eye to it any more now than in the past. “Life’s a struggle. You’re gonna feel pain. Everybody hurts. I run the race, but I have a lot of people supporting me.”
He’s also comfortable with being a role model. “People look up to me, and I look up to others,” he said, referring to former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts football coach Tony Dungy, who Meb called “a great man.”
Now that the book is done, he’s concentrating on training and is considering taking up cross-country skiing. “I’ve been in Mammoth for the past three winters and never been on snow!”
He’ll also continue promoting health, education and fitness through his MEB Foundation. “It teaches young kids about responsibility, time management and personal sacrifice,” he said, all extensions of the book’s message. “It can help you a lot in sports, but also in everyday life, whether you’re a scientist, a teacher … whatever. If you give 110%, your teachers know it, your parents know it and your coaches know it.”
Keflezighi’s very pleased that the Foundation has become part of the Crowd Rise collective organized by actor Edward Norton, who ran the NYC Marathon in 2009.
The book has also produced results he never imagined. “People have told me the book made them start running, helped them quit smoking. I had a scientist, who was too focused on his work, tell me it helped him find balance in his life.”
Running to win doesn’t always mean finishing first, he tells those gathered. And “overcoming” means getting the best out of yourself, whatever race you’re running.
Will there be a volume 2? “Who knows? Maybe … my dad’s story. He’s got a photographic memory and when we were writing the book, it was hard to decide what to leave out!” he quipped.
Meb plans to have an encore signing event in the spring at the Booky Joint. Watch The Sheet for details to come.