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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Henderson: Boston Marathon winner trained on Bayshore

If you are among those who like to run along Tampa's scenic Bayshore Boulevard, try to remember what you saw around four months ago. Running can be a solitary experience, so you may not have noticed a guy on a bicycle, setting a brisk pace for another man who was running hard and fast behind him.

This went on every day for about three weeks.

If you saw this pair and you do remember, congratulations. You can tell your friends and grandkids that you were training alongside Mebrahtom “Meb” Keflezighi — the men's champion in Monday's Boston Marathon.

It's not unusual for the man they call “Meb” to show up here. He has a lot of family and friends in Tampa, and he was married here.

One of his buddies, University of Tampa cross country assistant coach Dror Vaknin, was peddling the pace bike during those Bayshore runs.

“He called and said he was coming to town and wanted to know if I could train with him,” Vaknin said. “I told him, 'Meb, I'm 46 years old, I can't keep up with you. But I will ride a bike for you.'

“I'll tell you what, based on those workouts I knew he was ready to run a fast marathon. He is incredibly strong. We went out on Christmas Day and it was like 48 degrees with a 20-mile-an-hour wind blowing in our faces, and he was so fast.”

He is the first American since 1983 to win Boston, but don't expect him to brag about it. Everyone I talked with used words like “humble” and “inspiring” to describe him. UT cross country and track coach Jarrett Slaven talked about the time Meb gave his women's team a pep talk before a big meet, making sure he took time to shake hands with each athlete.

“That's our Meb,” said his sister-in-law, Hadas Asgedom, who was cheering like crazy while she watched from the fitness center at the Tampa Yacht Club, where she works. “He always feels like no matter the situation, you can always control your reaction to it.”

Meb's life, well, let's just say it ought to be a movie.

He is one of 10 children, born in Ethiopia before moving to the African nation of Eritrea. He was 12 when his family left there as refugees and migrated to the United States. Upon graduating from UCLA, he became a naturalized citizen.

He also became a force in international distance running. He finished second in the 2004 Olympic Marathon in Athens, Greece. He won the 2009 New York City Marathon.

Maurice Loregnard, a UT assistant soccer coach, is Meb's brother-in-law. He watched the finish on a computer feed inside the athletic office at the school.

“He is an extraordinary personality,” Loregnard said. “You won't find anyone who has anything bad to say about him. For him to win Boston, it's not a surprise for people who know him. I talked to him a couple of weeks ago and he told me he was in the best shape of his life.”

You never know how things are going to work out, though. Last year, an injury kept him from running in Boston; he went to the race anyway. He left the finish line area, where he was waiting for friends, shortly before the bomb blasts that sent a nation into shock.

A year later, he is the Boston Marathon champion at age 38.

“The last thousand meters I was counting it down,” his sister-in-law said. “He was going to so fast. It was nerve-wracking. All I could think of was how happy I am for him. The hard work paid off. All those good things people say about him, it's all true. You can't find a better guy.”

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