Monday, May 9, 2016

Meeting Meb

I'm still pretty tired from my weekend at the Indy Mini, but it is definitely a good kind of tired! We had such a good time as always and have set a few traditions that we will carry on into the coming years.

I'll have more on the race itself in the next day or two, but I wanted to have a standalone post from my experience of meeting the mighty Meb Keflezighi at the expo on Friday. I've been a fan of Meb's since the early 2000s when he was still a track guy, and I have always been so amazed by his accomplishments.

By every possible metric, Meb is one of the best American runners in history. A four-time Olympian, Olympic silver medalist in the marathon, winner at Boston and New York, and a multiple national champion and American record holder on the track. Crazy.

I've also always respected Meb because of his flawless race tactics as well as the fact he is such a classy gentleman along with being an intense competitor. Lately, my respect has grown because of the way he reaches out to fans and his understanding that we are a big part of the sport too.

So when I found out he was appearing at the Mini expo, I scheduled my whole day around getting down there in time to meet him. Traffic and construction made our drive down from Bartlett a little longer than expected, but fortunately our hotel was right across the street from the convention center, so I made it into line just minutes before they shut the line down.

In the end, it didn't matter, because as an Indy Mini Ambassador we were guaranteed the opportunity to jump in line to meet Meb. Nice! I finally got the opportunity to meet some of my fellow Ambassadors while we were standing in line, and we actually all jumped out of line for a quick photo in front of an IndyCar. Yeah, I know, I forgot my #IndyMini shirt, which was why I tried to hang in the back!

Photo op over, we jumped back in line but still had a lot of waiting to do. I think at the end I waited about 90 minutes, but I wasn't bothered by it.

The shorter the line got, the more excited I became! The line was on the other side of a temporary wall that had photos and winning times from past Minis, so you really couldn't see Meb until you got to the front of the line.

I finally did, and was met there by Kim Gale, who works with the 500 Festival and runs the Ambassador program. The 500 Festival is an organization that runs the Mini and other events related to the Indy 500, including the big parade the day before the race. She has been so good to me and my fellow Ambassadors, I was so happy to have been chosen.

So when it was your turn you handed your phone to Kim and joined Meb behind the table. The reason it took so long to get through the line is because everyone had the chance to sit down next to Meb, shake his hand and get a photo taken. He also autographed one item and took the time for a quick little conversation.

When I shook hands with Meb the first thing I did was to wish him a Happy Birthday! He had celebrated his 41st birthday on Thursday, which is mind boggling. The man's 41 and he's still taking on the best the world has to offer.

The first think I noticed sitting next to Meb is how easily he smiles and how he gives off an air of absolute peace and kindness. He seems like someone who is fully content to just live in the moment, which might be one of the secrets to Meb having overcome the injury setbacks he has had in his career. He just seems so happy and content with his place in the world.

One of our pieces of swag was a drawstring bag, so I gave that to Meb to sign above the Mini logo with the idea of cutting it all out and putting it in a frame. I asked him how everything was going for the Rio Olympics and he said he was just trying to stay healthy and will start putting in some hard running soon.

In very nice writing, he signed my bag:

"To Mike. Best Wishes. Run to Win. Meb"

With my job as a sportswriter, I've met a lot of pro athletes, and have been equally surprised and disappointed by some of those experiences. Some of the people who are intense on the field are incredibly outgoing and extremely funny in real life, while some people who are portrayed as "classy" or whatever by the media act like they don't have the time for you. It's OK, though, in the end, they are just people who have extraordinary talents, and like normal people they have good days and bad days.

But I will say this about Meb, meeting him was everything I had hoped it would be. He was exactly the same in person as I had seen him in interviews and on social media, he was warm, kind and caring. He was so easy to talk to, any nervousness I felt about meeting one of my running heroes melted away in an instant. Meb is just a genuinely awesome human being.

That wasn't my only interaction with Meb over the weekend. Meb and a group of guys started the race at the very back of the pack and passed over 15,000 runners to finish the race in 1:41. About a quarter-mile from the finish I heard a loud cheer behind me and I turned around and here came Meb, wearing a bright yellow shirt with his posse of friends in tow, smiling broadly. I stopped...stopped(!) and waited for him to pass so I could get a high five, which he more than happy to oblige.

I know to most of you it goes without saying we are lucky to have a guy like Meb in this sport. I've run the Indy Mini nine times now over the course of 15 years, and have a lot of great memories, but my experiences with Meb this past weekend rocketed to the top of my list.

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