Meb Keflezighi Celebrated at UCLA
It was a homecoming for Bruin running great Mebrahtom "Meb" Keflezighi on Friday, as he was welcomed back to the UCLA campus in a ceremony hosted by the athletic department to honor him for winning the Boston Marathon on April 21.
The ceremony started at 11 am in the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame Press Room, as Keflezighi arrived early for media interviews. Following the interviews, on his way back into the Hall of Fame, he was greeted by a visiting fifth-grade class from Van Nuys Hazeltine Avenue Elementary School and it was ‘high-fives’ all-around.
Opening and welcoming everyone to the ceremony, which was attended by UCLA coaches and staff and members of the track and field and cross country teams, was Senior Associate Athletic Director Ken Weiner. UCLA Director of Track & Field Mike Maynard presented Keflezighi with the department’s Certificate of Achievement.
UCLA Men’s Basketball Director of Administration Doug Erickson, told the story of visiting John Wooden with Keflezighi and presented Keflezighi a crystal Coach Wooden Pyramid of Success, which was engraved with "To Meb – A person who by his example and good deeds has reached the Pinnacle of Success."
UCLA Alumni Relations Senior Director Karen McClain welcomed Keflezighi back to campus on behalf of the Bruin alumni and presented him with a Blue and Gold alumni goodie-bag. When he got to the podium, Keflezighi spoke about what being a Bruin has meant to his life. In 2010, he was inducted into the UCLA Athletics Hall of Fame.
"During my freshman orientation to this day, I still remember the importance placed on academics and graduating," Keflezighi said. "We Bruins are fighters. We run through obstacles and challenges. I am so proud to be a Bruin.
"UCLA is the best in academics and athletics. As Coach Wooden said, 'Be the best you can be.' Believe in what you do, keep working hard, and you will reach your dreams. I’ve been very fortunate to have been surrounded by the people who have so positively affected my life."
Keflezighi described his Boston Marathon race strategy and the factors at the end of the race that led him to victory.
"I was thinking about the tragedy of last year’s race and asking God to please give me the strength of those victims to finish and win the race," he said. "As I crossed the finish line, I was listening to the crowd chant 'USA, USA' with great pride."
The night before the race, Keflezighi wrote on his running bib the names of the victims from last year’s Boston Marathon bombings.
Once he has retired from running, Keflezighi, who turned 39 on May 5, said he wants to work, promote and advance the fields of education, health and fitness. He ended his speech with a quote from the late Nelson Mandela: "Sports unite us more than anything else."
Accompanying Keflezighi were members of his family, including brother Merhawi and his coach, Bob Larsen, who last year was inducted into the National Track & Field Hall of Fame. Merhawi, now Keflezighi's business and personal agent, was a student manager for the UCLA men’s basketball team and graduated in 2006 from the UCLA School of Law.
Larsen, UCLA’s past track & field (1985-99) and cross country (1980-99) head coach, led Keflezighi to four NCAA distance championships (1997 NCAA Indoor 5,000m; NCAA Outdoor 5,000m/10,000m; NCAA Cross Country). As his post-collegiate coach, Larsen directed Keflezighi to a silver medal in the marathon at the 2004 Olympics, the 2009 New York City Marathon title and last April’s Boston Marathon championship. Keflezighi became the first American since 1983 to win the Boston race.
Born in Eritrea, Keflezighi and his family moved to San Diego in 1987 when he was 12-years-old. Following his senior season (1998) at UCLA, he returned to his hometown of San Diego to take the U.S. oath and become an American citizen.
It will be a busy few days for Keflezighi as he returns to Southern California. On Thursday at Dodger Stadium, he threw out the first pitch at the Dodgers-Giants game. He will attend Friday's Clippers-Thunder contest at Staples Center and then will be honored in San Diego on Saturday.