Meb Keflezighi, US Olympian Giving Back to Eritrea

Meb Keflezighi - Photo courtesy of USATFThis article was originally published here by USA Track & Field


Moving to the United States in the sixth grade, Meb Keflezighi didn’t speak English and hadn’t yet discovered his talent as a runner.

His family fled their war-torn nation of Eritrea for Italy, and finally settled in San Diego in 1987. Keflezighi and his siblings would wake early to have 4:30 a.m. English lessons with their father before they went to school. Keflezighi and his siblings weren’t allowed to watch TV during the week, but on the weekends he would watch cartoons to help learn English.

It wasn’t long before Keflezighi discovered his talent for running during a timed mile in his seventh grade PE class. While running for San Diego High School, coach Edwardo Ramos would buy shoes for Keflezighi when his family couldn’t afford them. One year, the teachers of his school even pooled their funds to buy Keflezighi a new pair of shoes and his own letterman’s jacket.

Now, more than 20 years later, Keflezighi owns an Olympic silver medal, a major marathon title and a fourth place finish in the 2012 Olympic marathon. It is Keflezighi’s time to give back to those who need a helping hand.

Keflezighi started a foundation in the spring of 2010, shortly after becoming the first American to win the NYC marathon since Alberto Salazar in 1982. The MEB Foundation serves as a collaborator and leader in the areas of youth health, education and fitness.

“You want to be the best human being you can possibly be,” Keflezighi said. “You don’t have to be an athlete or an Olympian to enjoy activity and to have fun. That’s what the foundation hopes to do; just to encourage people to be active.”

While the 38-year-old Keflezighi is nearing the end of his competitive career, his life has done anything but slow down since he finished fourth at the London Olympic marathon in August.

“I haven’t been in one place for long since the fall. I have a very understanding wife who put her career on hold to support my career as an elite athlete,” Keflezighi said. “You have to have a partner and a team to support you, because as an elite athlete I am on the clock 24-7. I  may be the one who runs the races, but there are a lot of people behind me, and I couldn’t do it without them.”

This Saturday, Keflezighi will run his first race since the Olympics at the UAE healthy Kidney 10 km in New York. From there he will travel to Washington D.C. as a guest of the State Department for the 2013 Global Diaspora Forum. Keflezighi will take part in the two-day event that features U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other diaspora athletes including figure skater Michelle Kwan and the Baltimore Ravens’ James Ihedigbo.

Taking part in the Global Diaspora Forum is just one of the ways that Keflezighi is working to extend his impact beyond the sport of running.

“Now that I am thinking of my transition away from life as a professional athlete, I want to find ways to give back to the community both in the U.S. and overseas,” Keflezighi said. “Running is part of my life, and I can’t just stop. Over the next four to five years I want to go into motivational speaking to share my story and help people to live up to their potential and see the glass as half full.”

As a foreign born athlete, Keflezighi described his decision to represent the United States over his native Eritrea as one of the toughest decisions he has ever made, but it is clear he has no regrets.

“It is an honor to run for the United States,” Keflezighi said. “My parents chose to come here so we could have better opportunities. Whenever I hear the national anthem at the start of a road race, it makes me think and appreciate it because I didn’t have this where I came from. It brings tears to my eyes.”


USTAF - International diaspora Engagement AllianceAbout the Author: USA Track & Field (USATF) is the national governing body for track and field, long-distance running and race walking in the United States. USATF  encompasses the world’s oldest organized sports, the most-watched events of Olympic broadcasts, the #1 high school and junior high school participatory sport and more than 30 million adult runners in the United States.


The contents of this blog are the sole responsibility of the author and its ideas and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of International diaspora Engagement Alliance, the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Migration Policy Institute, or any of their partners.