‘Meb’ than the rest
On April 21, Meb Keflezighi, 38, became the first American male since 1983 to win the Boston Marathon. Prior to that day, however, he was already an incredible influence on City College – as a former Knights’ cross-country coach and personal friend of current and long-time Head Coach, Paul Greer.
Keflezighi’s accomplishments include three national championships, a sliver medal in the 2004 Olympics and winning the New York marathon, but winning this year’s marathon after last year’s tragic events – at two weeks before his 39th birthday – was quite special.
“Because of the circumstances leading up to, through the race, and after the race, this was no doubt Meb Keflezighi’s greatest hour,” spoke Greer.
His trajectory as a runner starts back in 1994, when he was a state champion in the 1600 and 3200 meters for San Diego High School.
Greer was coaching the San Diego track club, the largest running club in San Diego at the time, every Tuesday at SD High. Keflezighi would be finishing up practice at the same time they would meet.
Four years later, after running as an All-American and winning four NCAA championships at UCLA, Keflezighi began training at the Olympic Training Facility in Chula Vista.
Greer got a call from the facility’s coach, his former college coach at San Diego State University, Dixon Farmer, who was excited about Keflezighi. Greer in turn offered him a position as co-Head Coach of the City College cross-country team for the 2000 season.
But that year was significant, as Keflezighi qualified for the Sydney Olympics, and as happens from time to time, the games were scheduled for September instead of June.
“To his credit, because Meb is a man of his word, he came back after the Olympics and resumed coaching with me,” explained Greer, who noted that Nike also began sponsoring Keflezighi that fall.
When recalling the effect he had on his students, Greer sighted the scripture passage, “Preach the gospel, but when necessary, use words.”
“It’s not what Meb said, it’s how Meb acted, and if you don’t think people notice and observe people’s actions in that position, they do,” added Greer.
According to Greer, Keflezighi’s greatest attribute as a runner is his perseverance.
When trying to make the 2007 Beijing Olympic team, he finished 8th in the trials and failed to make the team because he broke his hip during the race. He lost his Nike sponsorship as a result. Also sadly, his friend and training partner Ryan Shay died of a heart attack during the race.
Then in 2008, Greer had the honor of hosting the national cross-country championships in San Diego. But Keflezighi was again injured right before the competition. He still came out to support the other runners, but admitted to Greer, “Paul, this was tough.”
What did he do in the following year of 2009? Won the New York Marathon, setting a personal best of 2:09:15, and was the first American to win that race since 1982.
“This is something we all can learn from,” expressed Greer. “We all can learn from Meb and be like Meb in these areas of work ethic – with never sacrificing the gift – and when life knocks you down, which undoubtedly it will….you stand back up and you keep going and you keep pursuing your goals.”
As for his person, Greer notes that Keflezighi, husband and father of three, is brimming with humility.
“When we look at our sports stars or our movie stars…humility is not sometimes the top of these guys’ and girls’ lists,” said Greer. “When you’re on top, it’s just as tough to be a graceful winner, then when you’re at the bottom, and not be a sore loser.”
But Greer assures that, “Meb is just as humble, just as modest…after winning Boston two days ago.”