Meb Keflezighi wasn’t sure if he’d ever walk naturally again, let alone run another full 26-mile marathon. He’d resigned to crawling on his elbows and knees after suffering a hip injury at the U.S. Olympic trials in November 2007.
But now, Keflezighi, who trains in Mammoth Lakes, is one of 40 elite runners who will be in The City to race the 101st Bay to Breakers on Sunday. The event will be his next-to-last tune-up race before he sets off for London to represent the U.S. in the Olympic marathon this summer.
“I knew there was more in the tank,” Keflezighi said. “I just kept pushing and pushing.”
Keflezighi, 37, was able to push forward, in part, because he’s hurdled seemingly insurmountable obstacles his entire life. He first came to the U.S. as a refugee at age 12 after his family fled his native country, Eritrea, for political reasons.
“We had nothing when we came to the U.S.,” Keflezighi said. “We didn’t speak English.”
But he took to running right away and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1998 after graduating from UCLA, where he won four NCAA championships. In 2004, Keflezighi became the first American to medal (silver) in the Olympic marathon since Frank Shorter grabbed silver at the 1976 games. His goal was to return in 2008 and bring home the country’s first gold since 1972, but that dream was upended when he injured his hip at the trials in New York.
In September 2008, Keflezighi started rehabbing at the U.S. Olympic committee’s sport performance center in Colorado Springs.
“I was there from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.,” he said. “It was a 12-hour job.”
After a full recovery, he defied the odds by becoming the first American in 27 years to win the New York City marathon in November 2009. Then, last January, he transcended expectations again by becoming the oldest runner, 36, to win the U.S. Olympic marathon trial.
Nowadays, Keflezighi’s not only determined to win Olympic gold, he’s set on raising money for a USOC sport performance fellowship through Citi’s “Every Step of the Way” program. He said anyone willing to support his initiative can do so by simply going online and voting for him at everystep.citi.com.
“I want to give back to the sports medicine of the USOC, so people who’ve been injured don’t have to give up on their dreams,” he said.