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Run to Overcome: An American Story of Marathoner Meb Keflezighi's Life

American marathoner Meb Keflezighi's last name is hard to say. Talk among runners, and mention, "Meb," and that's usually enough. "Run to Overcome" is likely to help it become a household name.

His claim to fame is his Silver Medal for the marathon, won at the 2004 Olympics, or his 2:09:15 time while winning the 2009 New York City Marathon. But that's not why this book matters. Other runners have run faster. Haile Gebrselassie owns the world record in 2:03:59. Cheering on Meb comes easier once you know the back story. In the midst of being all about a runner's life, it isn't about running. It is a Horatio Alger type story of rags-to-riches, full of hard times, hard work, and the blessing of God.

Like many immigrants, Meb's family left home to remain safe from war, and to find a better life. And like those families, things were difficult. And in the face of adversity, he found motivation.

When Tyndale House Publishers sent me this book, asking for a review, I wondered suspiciously if it would be like so many autobiographies with a "look at all I have achieved" attitude. Better written than expected, Meb humbly relates his life. He takes us through his childhood in Eritrea, a country not quite twice the population of Chicago. He describes facing soldiers and war, and how he saw death as a young boy. He tells how his parents taught him to trust God despite all of this.

After emigrating through Italy to the United States, his his American teachers made an impact, he says, as he mentions a note he still owns from a teacher encouraging him as an excellent student. His seventh grade PE class teacher had him run a mile, and his first time out, Meb ran a 5:20.

Meb enters UCLA, relating running and academic struggles, though ultimately succeeds at both.

Challenges continued, however, after college. First, does represent America or his home country? Injuries. Bad races. Psychologically beat up, he learns to dig deep and beyond whatever froze him, train smart to stay healthy, and find a way to win.

He admits when he ran one televised 10,0000 meter final, his girlfriend would be watching, "I wanted to impress her." He won by 19 seconds. He eventually marries her.

More races, more ups and down are found as Meb matures in his running career. His beloved friend Ryan Shay dies while racing. Eritrean friends are murdered just before he visits them. A grocery store he owned with his family was robbed by armed thieves. His racing doesn't go well, and his income drops. His faith grew just the same.

He applauds the many people he competes against, and recognizes his friends. Throughout the pages are pullout quotes by coaches, friends and runners who all repeat the quality of his character. Olympic legend Joan Benoit writes similarly in her brief foreword, reiterating it is an honor to call Meb her friend.

Overall, "Run to Overcome" is honest and inspiring. Runners will appreciate the race and training details, but nonrunners will find it readable. I fully recommend "Run to Overcome" by Meb Keflezighi.

Anthony Trendl
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