Meb Keflezighi writes about what it feels like to represent the United States at competitions throughout the world.
When I was running on the cross-country and track teams at San Diego High School, and then in college at UCLA, my coaches always told me that when you put on your jersey before a race, you not only represent yourself, but also your institution. I take that lesson to heart every time I have the privilege to wear the USA singlet. I’m not running for me—I’m running for the United States.
As I was about to cross the finish line in Central Park at the New York City Marathon in 2009, I pointed to the USA jersey on my chest. That was a precious moment for me. I took a lot of pride in that win because people were chanting “USA! USA!” as I broke the tape.
Fast forward to the Olympic Games in 2012. It was probably one of the gutsiest races I’ve ever run. At the halfway point, I was in 20th place and I was hurting so bad that I wanted to stop. I already had a silver medal from Athens and a win at New York City, but it came to mind during the race that I was representing the United States—and I had to get to that finish line. I wasn’t planning on passing people, and it was a miracle that I finished fourth. But when you’re doing things for the right reasons, you just get that energy. When I heard people along the course yelling, “Come on USA, come on Meb!” I got the energy to keep moving forward.
And in Boston this year, I wanted to win for the United States so badly. My country needed me on April 21, and I take great pride that I was able to win that race on the day it mattered the most.
Marathon Meb: Why We Run
The path to representing the United States wasn’t an easy one for me. My parents’ journey here from Eritrea was amazing work. I came from zero, my family didn’t have any money and we grew up on welfare, but my parents’ sacrifices to make a better life for us has always inspired me to keep working hard toward my own goals.
On July 2, 1998, I became a U.S. citizen. I wanted it to be July 4, but that’s the closest I could get! I remember it vividly like it was yesterday. The ceremony was at Cabrillo Monument in San Diego, and I remember giving my oath and looking out at the ocean and thinking, “Wow, this is a dream come true.”
After 11 years of living in the United States, I was so excited for the opportunity to finally wear the USA singlet in competition. That year I was able to go to the Goodwill Games in New York and run the 10,000 meters. I didn’t have the best race. I got lapped—maybe twice—but it was such an honor to wear the USA jersey.
Marathon Meb: Inspired By You
Since 1998, I’ve been on a number of U.S. teams—from an Ekiden relay in Japan to cross-country world championships, World Cup events, track world championships and three Olympic Games. For me, part of being an American is that you never give up, and, God willing, I hope to have the opportunity to wear that USA on my chest a few more times before I retire.
About The Author:
Meb Keflezighi is the only runner in history to win both the New York City Marathon and Boston Marathon and earn an Olympic medal. This is the first installment of his new “Marathon Meb” column for Competitor. Follow along each month in the magazine and also find regular training tips and inspiration at competitor.com/runmeb.