As the saying goes, some are born to greatness, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them. Then in today's world there are those who create their own breaks and lady luck and hard work intercede to create what we know as "The Championship Moment." Some rise to the occasion at that point and embrace all the good of that moment, while others are ill equipped to handle it and shrink away.
Luckily for millions around the world, Meb Keflezighi, who will visit New Jersey next week, is one who embraced and rose to the challenge, becoming the first American in 27 years to win the ING New York City Marathon last November. Yes, he had won silver at the Athens Olympics, the first American man to medal in the marathon since 1976. He also finished on the podium at a major marathon three other times from 2004-06, but that was starting to feel like a long time ago when New York dawned again last November 1. New York was different, the time was right, and Keflezighi responded.Since breaking the tape last year, the California resident made the obligatory rounds — reading the Top 10 list on the "Late Show with David Letterman." Riding in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Induction in the UCLA Athletic Hall of Fame. The sponsor offers also rose, with new deals for companies like Subway and U-Can coming to the table. He became a father for the third time, and he also became a bit of a lightning rod for controversy, as some in the media questioned how "American" he was, since he was born in Eritrea in East Africa before his family migrated to southern California when he was a teen. However like any good distance runner, Keflezighi took each challenge in stride and carried the weight of the champion like the professional he is.
He even used the spotlight to launch the MEB Foundation this week, which will assist young people both in the United States and Africa with issues of health, education and fitness, and even found the time to tell his story in "Run To Overcome," a memoir about his life and the challenges he has faced, from leaving his homeland to competing in the Olympics and battling the many misconceptions people had about him in his time in and out of the limelight. It is a message that is timeless and very apropos for today's issues in society, and one that will continue to inspire regardless of Sunday's outcome on the streets of New York.
It is with that uncertainty of outcome but certainty of message that Keflezighi will continue on following Sunday's race. Regardless of his finish...he is in the best shape of his life but the grueling streets of New York are never a sure thing regardless of preparation...he will hit the speaking road early next week, with stops in New York Monday and then New Jersey Tuesday. His New Jersey tour will take him to Hillsborough High School, where he will speak to over 500 students about the book and his life as an athlete, father and citizen. Why Hillsborough? Because a fan contacted him and asked last year. That is the type of man Meb is — selfless, willing to help and a great champion. The type of champion we need today.
Yes greatness can be a fleeting thing. What we do with it is the biggest challenge, and Meb Keflezighi seems to answer that challenge no matter where he goes.