Full disclosure: I am Meb Keflezighi’s brother and business manager. I am biased. While I do have a unique perspective into the man that is Meb and the significance of his Boston Marathon victory in 2014, I know my assessment and understanding of Meb is supported by thousands, if not millions, of people who have been inspired by his championship performances and character. Through my observations of Meb’s interaction with these people, I have come to understand and appreciate his most valuable asset, his ability to inspire through his journey as a sportsman.
To the decision makers for Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year:
As graduates of UCLA, both Meb and I are big fans of former Bruins basketball coach John Wooden and his Pyramid of Success. At the top of the pyramid is Competitive Greatness. Next to those words, it says, “Be at your best when your best is needed.”
At this year’s Boston Marathon, Meb was at his absolute best when it was needed most. As with every race he enters, Meb put a lot of pressure on himself to win on April 21, 2014. But this time, Meb’s motivation was far beyond achieving victory for himself or his sponsors. Meb was pursuing victory to pay tribute to Martin, Krystle, Lingzi and Sean—the victims who lost their lives due to the Boston Marathon bombings. Meb was running to bring joy back to the people of Boston. Meb was seeking victory to reclaim the finish line for the global community, runners and non-runners alike. Meb carried that pressure in his heart and allowed it to fuel his visualization, training and race execution. Meb was inspired to think, train and race for a victory, not for himself—but a victory for goodness and humanity. It was important to our nation and to the world for the 118th running of the Boston Marathon to take place after the bombings the year before, but for the first of 36,000 finishers to be Meb was better than any writer could script. Rarely is there an opportunity where an athletic performance can transcend sport, and seldom is that opportunity grasped in front of 1.5 million spectators and broadcast live to hundreds of millions of people around the world.
Coach Wooden, a former Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year awardee himself, is someone Meb and I have had the honor to meet numerous times and whom we respect for all of his achievements in sports and the way he carried himself in all aspects of his life. Meb’s “Run To Win” philosophy is derived from his understanding and appreciation of Coach Wooden’s definition of success: Peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming. For Meb, “Run To Win” doesn’t always mean getting first place, it means getting the best out of yourself.
Meb has lived out this philosophy over the course of his entire career. He has gotten the best out of himself time and time again when it’s mattered most: earning the silver medal in the marathon at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, winning the 2009 New York City Marathon, winning the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon in 2012 and finishing fourth at the 2012 Olympic marathon in London. This year’s Boston Marathon provided the opportunity for the entire world to witness the essence of Meb. In a true sportsman, I think the character of a champion is more important than his victories. When Meb stepped to the starting line of this year’s Boston Marathon, many other runners had run faster marathons than him. But Meb’s motivation on that day was singular and selfless. Meb has made a career out of getting the best out of himself, but from April 13, 2013 to April 21, 2014, he was driven to be at his best for much more than himself, and amazingly, he accomplished this noble mission.
When I look at the list of past recipients of the S.I. Sportsman of the Year award, I barely remember a specific individual performance, but rather the power of an athletic achievement to transcend a sport. In my mind, this prestigious award isn’t just about a significant sports moment; it’s more about the commitment to athletic excellence and sportsmanship an athlete displays throughout their career, which is sometimes only recognized retroactively because of a shining moment or season.
Some people have compared Meb’s win to the 1980 Miracle on Ice, a true honor given that moment’s impact on America’s sporting and social landscape. Among the running community, I think Meb’s performance will have a similar impact as Joan Benoit Samuelson’s gold medal performance at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the first Olympic marathon in which women were allowed to compete. Similar to Joanie’s performances, I believe, there are life lessons for all of us in Meb’s journey and victory. Meb is not the most dominant marathoner in the world, but he’s shown he is one of the most consistent runners in the long history of the sport. One of the smartest. One of the gutsiest. In fact, Meb is the only person of either gender and of any nationality to win the Boston Marathon, New York City Marathon and an Olympic marathon medal.
Whether you’re a runner, a student or an employee, Meb’s story is evidence that you don’t need to be the most talented person in your profession in order to achieve success. You just need to make smart decisions, work hard, be consistent and surround yourself with a good team. If you do those things enough times you’ll have the opportunity to realize “success” and “win” in life.
In Meb’s case, winning the Boston Marathon, breaking a 31-year American dry spell when it mattered most, shows his true character and what he’s been doing for 16 years as a professional. The Boston Marathon victory was a culmination of Meb’s achievements and a moving display of the work ethic, toughness and character that has inspired and motivated so many people. Winning the Boston Marathon or any of his other achievements in running present just a partial glimpse into Meb’s character. On the Friday night before one the biggest races of his life, Meb made it a point to meet with the family of Martin Richard, the youngest victim of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, and on behalf of the MEB Foundation, donated $10,000 to the foundation set up in memory and in honor of Martin.
In closing, I have grown from respecting Meb as a great athlete, brother and client, to the gradual realization that he is one of the greatest sportsmen of our time. Similar to previous recipients of this award, including our friends Rafer Johnson, John Wooden, Kip Keino, Jim Ryun, and the likes of Arthur Ashe, Cal Ripken Jr., David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Derek Jeter, Payton Manning, and coach Mike Krzyzewski, Meb has achieved the highest honors in his sport, but he has used this platform to inspire people to get the best out of themselves. While all of the 20 or so athletes in contention for this year’s award are truly worthy of the honor, I believe the S.I. Sportsman of the Year transcends just one performance. It’s not about the performance, but the impact of the performance and performer on others. In my nine years working as Meb’s manager, I have seen him touch thousands of people, one handshake, autograph, smile, interaction and selfie at a time. On April 21, 2014, Meb touched millions of lives with one performance, by doing what he’s always done: Running To Win!
I share this letter with you today, not because I am Meb’s brother and manager, but because I have the fortune, honor and privilege of being the brother and manager of one of the greatest sportsmen of our generation—an athlete who has consistently been at his best when his best was needed, not only needed for his own good, but for the good of his team, our sport, our country and our society.
Editor’s Note: The editor of Time Inc. Sports Group and the editor of Sports Illustrated will make the final selection for Sportsman of the Year, which will be announced in December. As part of the lead-in to that announcement, SI.com is publishing a series of about 20 nominating essays, mostly by the magazine’s staff writers. Sports Illustrated senior writer Tim Layden nominated Meb Keflezighi for the award. You can read that essay here.