BOSTON (CBS) — Winning the 2014 Boston Marathon has changed Meb Keflezighi’s life in many different ways.
“It’s a blessing, it really is,” Keflezighi, the first American man to win the storied race in 31 years, told WBZ-TV’s Lisa Hughes as he gets ready to defend his crown next month.
But his life could have taken a much different course. One year before his Boston victory a calf injury sidelined Keflezighi, making him a spectator in 2013. He spent most of April 15, 2013 making his way from the shade to the sun during the chilly Boston day.
Shortly after Keflezighi left for a scheduled appointment, two bombs went off near the finish line, taking the lives of three people and injuring hundreds of others.
“I was a spectator that day, in the grandstand for four and a half hours,” he said. “Just like them. It could have been me, it could have been anyone.”
So when he was back in 2014, ready to take on the Boston course again, he made sure to honor the victims of that horrific day and the days that followed.
“I had the name of the victims on the bib, wanting to draw inspiration. The spirit of the angels that we lost, that gave me the energy,” said Keflezighi, who won the 2014 race with a finish time of 2:08:37.
It wasn’t just those we lost that day who inspired Keflezighi though. It was everyone in attendance, cheering him along every step of the way.
“I was fascinated at how amazing the crowd was. If it wasn’t for the crowd and the spirit, I don’t think I could have won that race,” he said.
Keflezighi led nearly start to finish last year, holding off a late push by Kenyans Wilson Chebet and Franklin Chepkwony. He also fought through pain as he made his way towards the final miles of his victory.
“It’s never over until you touch that tape. At [Mile] 17, I was in such pain after making the right after that fire station. I felt like ‘I got this,’ but I was in such pain. I was having foot issues then, but I said, ‘This is for Boston, this is for America. Ignore the pain. Ignore the pain,’” he said. “At about [Mile] 18 or 19, people started to do the wave and chant ‘U-S-A’.”
At that point Keflezighi was locked in, but he saw competition closing in.
“At 5K to go, it was 23 miles and I realized someone was chasing me down. I was thinking, ‘How embarrassing would it be to lead this whole time and get caught?’ But in my training visualization, I could see it would come down to Boylston Street,” he said. “Three things came to mind: Maintain pace, extend pace or save some energy for Boylston. If I let him catch up to me I would lose the mental edge, so I couldn’t allow him to do that.
“You kind of look back and just keep pushing. At one point I said, ‘If he was feeling good, he would have caught up to me.’ It’s a lot of self-talk and self-analysis,” he explained.
With the 2014 Boston Marathon just a few weeks before his 39th birthday, Keflezighi was considered too old by some to be a contender to win the race. But he was determined to do just that — not for himself, but for the City of Boston. With that will, and the masses of spectators cheering him on, he was all but certain he would be the first person to cross the finish line.
“All I wanted to do in 2014 was to change Boston’s streets to a positive. To have people on their feet and chanting ‘USA, USA’ and giving fist-pumps, it’s a dream that became a reality,” he said. “[It’s] the most meaningful victory. The reason why God put me on the earth to be a runner, was the Boston Marathon. That was the most meaningful [race] because of what was on the line. It was not just another race, it was something greater.”
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He won Olympic silver in 2004 and the New York City Marathon in 2009, but they don’t compare to his victory in Boston in 2014.
“I have met a lot of people who, mentally and physically, it has changed their life. It’s tough to put into words. At the same time you do what you can to move forward, and I hope the victory played a little role in expediting the healing of people.”
As for the upcoming 2015 Boston Marathon, while he’d love to wear the laurel wreath again, he knows it won’t be easy. But he also knows the Boston course very well, and will once again do all he can to be in that final pack.
“My goal is to be with the pack up to [the] 20 [mile mark], up to Heartbreak Hill, and anything can happen after that,” he said. “I’ll have to pull a magic trick after that and see what happens.”
It’s a magic trick that will also require plenty of help from the audience, but that’s one thing we know Keflezighi will have on his side.
Stay tuned for more coverage of the 119th Boston Marathon on CBSBoston.com and WBZ-TV — the exclusive local broadcast home of the Boston Marathon!