TERRE HAUTE —
Often, he runs alone, in a physical sense.
Few training partners could keep up with Meb Keflezighi. In fact, only a few living humans are capable of matching him stride for stride. But this 5-foot, 5-inch-tall guy with the funny sounding name (pronounced ka-FLEZ-ghee) didn’t become America’s best distance runner without help.
“You cannot make it by yourself,” Keflezighi said by cellphone Thursday afternoon.
He’d just conveyed that message, and more advice, to elementary school students in Austin, Texas. From there, Keflezighi flew to Boston to sign copies of his new book, “Run to Overcome: The Inspiring Story of an American Champion’s Long-Distance Quest to Achieve a Big Dream.” This week, he’ll visit Terre Haute to promote his book today and watch the NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course on Monday.
All kinds of people pass through Terre Haute. Few arrive with more inspiring stories than this softspoken, 35-year-old husband and father.
As a boy, Keflezighi and his family fled war-torn Eritrea — a small region seeking independence from Ethiopia — to Italy and then the United States. Meb showed up in middle school as a sixth-grader, unable to speak English. “They thought I was potentially stupid, or a mute,” Keflezighi said. His youth, though, was unlike anything the other kids experienced.
He’d witnessed the atrocities of war. He saw an automobile and a television for the first time at age 10.
“The first time I saw a car, I ran from it,” Keflezighi recalled. “The first time I saw a TV, I went behind it to look for the people.”
Life in the United States wasn’t simple, either. Keflezighi’s parents worked hard to raise 11 children (their family grew here) and send those children through college. Meb’s path to a UCLA degree sprouted in a seventh-grade gym class in San Diego. The students ran a mile and were timed. Keflezighi had never done that before. Yet, he finished his debut mile in 5 minutes and 20 seconds — a minute faster than the rest of the class.
Keflezighi won a pair of state championships as a high-schooler. UCLA Coach Bob Larsen gave him a scholarship to UCLA, and Keflezighi responded by winning four NCAA cross country championships as a Bruin. In 2004, Keflezighi won the silver medal in the marathon at the Summer Olympics at Athens, Greece. Last year, he won the New York City Marathon, coming back from a potentially career-ending broken pelvis.
Those last two accomplishments — the silver medal at Athens, and the New York City Marathon title — come with a distinction perhaps more important to Keflezighi than his placement in those historic races. In Greece, he became the first American to win an Olympic marathon medal since Frank Shorter took gold in 1972. In the Big Apple, Keflezighi became the first American to win the New York City Marathon since Alberto Salazar in 1982.
The first American …
He received that precious label on July 2, 1998, when he became a U.S. citizen. Keflezighi has committed that date to memory. “Independence. It was my Fourth of July,” he said. He also remembers Oct. 25, 1987, the day his family came to the United States.
When Keflezighi describes this country as “the land of opportunity,” he’s not simply repeating a cliché. He relishes his opportunity.
“I take pride in the United States,” Keflezighi said.
To other immigrants, he advises them to embrace their pride and opportunity wisely. “Assimilate to the culture, but don’t forget where you came from,” Keflezighi said.
And, “surround yourself with good people.”
Family, friends, teachers and coaches all played roles in Keflezighi’s path to citizenship, as did his Christian faith. Those elementary-schoolers listening to Keflezighi speak on Thursday heard him emphasize the importance of making good choices in friendships and activities.
“There are good things about the United States, and there are bad things about the United States,” he said. “Stick to people who are doing the right things.”
Keflezighi linked up with one of the wisest Americans ever, John Wooden. During Keflezighi’s UCLA days, he sought out a chance to meet the legendary former Bruins basketball coach. He visited Wooden’s modest home, and was amazed by the volume of books the coach kept. “It was a library,” Keflezighi recalled.
Wooden, who died this year, “had that thirst for knowledge,” Keflezighi said. “He was a dear and special man.”
That’s why Keflezighi often quotes Wooden. In the days before this year’s New York City Marathon, Keflezighi told the New York Times, “John Wooden says it’s not what you do in the two hours of practice, but how you take care of yourself the next 24 hours.”
If the 500-plus collegiate runners, their coaches, parents and fans flowing into Terre Haute today and Monday need some guidance, American Meb Keflezighi has a pretty good sense of direction.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
MARK BENNETT: New York City Marathon winner and Olympic silver medalist in town for Cross Country Championships
TERRE HAUTE —
Often, he runs alone, in a physical sense.
- Mark Bennett Opinion
Reaching the Wabash: New public-access point begins quest to create more spots to experience river
Fairness holds no power over the Wabash River.
MARK BENNETT: People spaces
Demolition machinery chipped away at the buildings on the 500 block of Wabash Avenue. I stood and watched awhile, last week. By July 2015, a new $18.7-million structure will replace those relics.
MARK BENNETT: Blessings of a long, cold, snowy winter
As spring, summer arrive, Hoosiers will appreciate icy months (well, maybe a little)
MARK BENNETT: Healing Indiana’s Achilles’ heel
Illinois served as the easy target.
At that moment.
MARK BENNETT: Yeah, yeah, yeah... For some grownups, first impression not so fab
We’re pretty smart here in middle America.
Our DNA carries the common-sense chromosome. From birth, Midwestern culture begins honing us into the most rational and perceptive of human beings. Sure, our prisons are full, but generally, we mean well. And we’re wise.
MARK BENNETT: Remembering the less glitzy days on Manning’s road to the Super Bowl
A blur of memories.
They’ll flicker fast and furious tonight, like a spinning Rolodex, when Peyton Manning runs onto the MetLife Stadium turf in Jersey City, as a Denver Bronco, playing for a Super Bowl ring against the Seattle Seahawks. Most Hauteans will experience flashbacks, too.
MARK BENNETT: A lengthening climb
The American economy is improving.
Confidence has risen since the government shutdown by the polarized Congress last fall. Indicators in various sectors show promise.
MARK BENNETT: Tackling entrenched economic problems could brighten local forecast
Without a DeLorean, there’s no going back to 1995.
MARK BENNETT: What is Indiana’s image in the eyes of the world?
A bus pulled up to the curb near the riverfront in downtown Chicago. An unusual advertisement was painted on its side.
Raising the bar
Around coffeeshops, kitchen tables and office watercoolers, Hoosiers have cussed and discussed the federal health care law.
MARK BENNETT: ABA’s record proves Bobby Leonard’s a legit Hall of Famer
Bobby Leonard symbolized the feisty competitive flair of the old ABA.
MARK BENNETT: Letter from coach’s young daughter put pro sports, Christmas in perspective
Most of us sympathize with people forced to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
That list is growing, now that Black Friday has morphed into Black Thursday, causing retail employees to join doctors, nurses, hospital staffers, police, firefighters, emergency responders, military members, convenience store clerks, road crews and media to spend holidays at work. Ideally, we’ll feel gratitude when we require their services on those special days. Too often, their sacrificed time gets taken for granted.
Terry Leonard wanted the executives to remember her dad, and their family, at Christmastime.
And, amazingly, they listened.
MARK BENNETT: A degree of success
Determination to get that diploma Larry Bird’s deepest bond with fellow ISU alums, students
MARK BENNETT: Brad Fenton and friends set dominos in motion to make Larry Bird statue a reality
The idea has been out there for awhile, floating.
Locals in the 1980s, ’90s and 2000s would say, “They need to put up a statue of Larry Bird. I mean, one of the all-time greatest basketball players played right here in Terre Haute at Indiana State University.”
MARK BENNETT: Next chapter set to begin
Use the classic Tommy Tutone song to memorize the following number …
MARK BENNETT: One-ring blues?
Minutes before kickoff tonight, the Lucas Oil Stadium tech crew should play Sam Cooke’s classic, “(What a) Wonderful World” over the sound system.
MARK BENNETT: At Peace in Parke County
Northwestern Parke County — The stream merely trickles beneath Mill Creek Bridge. It’s just a few inches deep, but the water keeps moving.
MARK BENNETT: Terre Haute native Tommy John belongs in Cooperstown for pitching like a Hall of Famer
Few players in history left a greater impact on baseball than Tommy John.
And he did so through his performance on the field.
MARK BENNETT: Remotely confused
“Must See TV,” where have you gone?
MARK BENNETT: Popularity Contest: Congress does little to improve its standing with Americans
The members of Congress ardently resisting the Affordable Care Act emphasize its unpopularity.
MARK BENNETT: ‘The voice of the Democratic Party’
The ad stands as a campaign classic. Its scenario is part of history. Its narrator would be familiar to millions of Americans, yet anonymous, too.
MARK BENNETT: Transparency in public decision-making includes sincerely listening to the people
Transparency isn’t universally accepted in public entities.
MARK BENNETT: This Little Light: Remote chapel keeps a light shining on story of Flight 93
Father Al explained the meaning of the lamp. He asked me to light it.
The reverence in his voice offset the raspiness, left by his latest battle with cancer. Clearly, he saw this place as special.
MARK BENNETT: Reflections on the Wabash
The series “500 Miles of Wabash” wrapped up last Sunday after a five-week run. Readers offered some enlightening insights, memories and photographs as the series unfolded.
MARK BENNETT: Current Information: Put your Wabash knowledge to the test … or quiz
Just for fun, ponder a few questions concerning the large waterway flowing through Indiana and Terre Haute, as the Tribune-Star’s series, “500 Miles of Wabash” concludes in today’s editions. Those who’ve followed the five-part series of stories, photographs and videos about people and communities uniquely embracing the Wabash River may have a head start. If you’re just catching up, check them out in the online editions at www.tribstar.com.
- Answers to the Wabash River Quiz
MARK BENNETT: Pedestrian paths across the Wabash few, so far, but appreciated
The future tends to sneak up on you. Planning for it offers no guarantees, but it helps.
MARK BENNETT: Questions of fairness, impartiality, public trust legitimate in wake of school rating controversy
The discovery of a double-standard in public policy — or the appearance of it — weakens trust. The acceptance of a double-standard in public policy — or the appearance of it — erases trust. Indiana needs to draw a clear line between the former and the latter, and not cross it.
MARK BENNETT: Living downstream: From source, Wabash bears mark of mankind mile after mile
Something was missing. I’d never visited this spot before, but the view looked familiar. I’ve walked the banks of the Wabash River and its tributaries countless times, catching crawdads and skipping rocks in Honey Creek as a kid. On the other side of the state, where the Wabash crosses from Ohio into Indiana, trees arched over the water as it ran under a bridge on a quiet country road. It looked like western Indiana, except for one absent element. Litter.
MARK BENNETT: We are Hauteans (ho-shuns)
I fielded an hilariously disturbing question recently. A friend asked if the word “Hautean” is meant to be a derogatory label.
- More Mark Bennett Opinion Headlines
- Reaching the Wabash: New public-access point begins quest to create more spots to experience river