Monday, Meb capped a memorable running season when he was honored with the USATF Jesse Owens Athlete of the Year award, which is given to the outstanding male and female US track and field athletes. Jenny Simpson won the women's Jackie Joyner-Kersee Athlete of the Year Award.
That in itself is enough to make Meb a winner and a legend in the running community, but his story of how he got there was just as dramatic. One of ten children in his family, Meb was born in the African nation of Eritrea in 1975. His father left the war-torn country ahead of the family to try and find a better place to live, and after a stop in Italy the family reunited together in San Diego in 1987.
Meb's talent for running flourished almost immediately after picking up the sport, and after a successful high school career he attended UCLA, where he was a combined 12-time All-American in both cross country and track, while earning a degree in communications. Since Meb earned his degree, his other nine siblings have all earned theirs while becoming doctors, lawyers and engineers. In fact, Meb's brother Merhawi is an attorney who acts as his brother's business manager.
Success came easy to Meb, but at the same time he has had his share of struggles. Injuries have plagued much of his career, causing him to miss considerable time while he recovered, and some have also put his career in jeopardy. He's had some very low points in his career, and probably sank as far as he could go during the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials in Central Park in New York, where he suffered a pelvic fracture in the same race that his friend Ryan Shay collapsed and died during the race.
But Meb's greatest strength is his attitude and the fact that he is an absolute grinder, which is a word I use with total respect. He just refuses to quit, and refuses to give up, instead pushing forward to squeeze every last ounce of ability he has, which has paid off as he has three marathon wins and an Olympic experience to show for the last five years.
Meb's also a true racer who understands what he can and cannot do and he trusts his tactics and experience every time he toes the line. His break into the lead and solo run at Boston was a bit of an outlier, as more often than not he sets his own pace and moves up as other runners drop back. At the London Olympics he was in 17th place just after the halfway point and moved up to fourth by the finish.
At New York a couple of weeks ago, he ran a spectacular race all things considered. Despite the wind and iffy weather, his splits were amazing:
5K -- 16:01
10K -- 15:30
15K -- 15:55
20K -- 15:55
25K -- 16:09
30K -- 15:37
35K -- 15:27
40K -- 15:48
Given the conditions and elevation changes, it doesn't get much better than that. He always runs within himself and sticks to his plan, a lesson we can all learn from!
As a person, I appreciate Meb's competitive drive, his personal faith and his desire to give the most to others and to his community. He's constantly speaking and raising money for causes and getting out and supporting other runners. Over the weekend he was a constant presence at the Rock N Roll event in Las Vegas, and even jumped in and led the 1:45 pace group for the half-marathon.
I mean, how cool is that? It is really rare that an elite athlete would not only give as much of their time as he did last weekend, but to also jump in and lead a pace group? That's pretty much unheard of.
Meb's Twitter feed was chock full of great stuff over the weekend, but one tweet really stood out:
"At the end of the day it's all about having fun, run for a reason & get the best out of yourself."
Contrary to what many may think, lots of elite runners think this way, and they also appreciate us for what we do. Plus, if you live the lifestyle they do, it has to be fun, challenging and rewarding in order for them to succeed. As we know, training is a grind, and when your life is centered around that if you don't get enjoyment from it the grind will wear you down!
Meb truly gets it. His career hasn't been easy but I'm glad he has hung in there and persevered, and that we've had the opportunity to enjoy the work of a great champion.