“Don’t change who you are.”
That was Meb Keflezighi’s promise to himself when he became the first American in more than 30 years to win the Boston Marathon in April.
Tomorrow, he’s hoping to be the winner of the Shelter Island 10K, a race he committed to run even before he won Boston.
He and Joan Benoit-Samuelson, the first woman to win an Olympic Gold Medal for her run in Los Angeles in 1984, joined host Dr. Frank Adipietro on WLNG Radio Friday afternoon to talk about what running means to them and why they want to compete on Shelter Island.
“What’s really great about this community is they haven’t lost sight of who they are,” said Ms. Benoit-Samuelson. She’s making a return to the race for the fourth successive year. Having run and won other marathons since, including Boston, she said she loves the smaller community races.
“These authentic home grown, home spun races are the best,” she said, noting that Shelter Island is right at the top of such racing experiences.
Mr. Keflezighi described the people here as “very hospitable” and said the Island has “small town charm. I’m honored to be here.”
Race director Mary Ellen Adipietro invited him to Shelter Island after finding his new book, “Run to Overcome,” in a New York Athletic Club gift shop and noticing that Ms. Benoit-Samuelson had written a forward to the book.
The night before the race, the Adipietros had dinner with Mr. Keflezighi and their son Liam told the marathoner that if he ran as fast as he could, he believed he would win the race. Mr. Keflezighi, of course, made Liam’s prediction come true
This is his first race since the Boston Marathon for Mr. Keflezighi. He came to Boston with three goals in mind: try to win; at least get on the podium; and run the best race he could. He achieved all three.
He credited “my God-given talent” and his father’s advice to work hard. He talked about his dad’s struggle to bring the family to the United States where Mr. Keflezighi because a citizen from war-torn Eritrea in eastern Africa.
Just as the crowds encouraged Mr. Keflezighi’s Boston win, shouting, “Go, USA,” he’s hoping the Shelter Island crowds will spur him on in Saturday’s race.
“You have to be a champion before you become a champion,” he said. “God chose me for a reason,” he said about his win.
He told students on the Shelter Island Cross Country team that he has a routine in preparing for a race that involves proper eating and sleeping. Ms. Benoit-Samuleson said she watched him before a race and he spent a half hour in warm-up exercises.
“For me, I try to save it all for the race,” she said. She hadn’t intended her running career to last this long — it has been 30 years since she won her Olympic Gold Medal — but said she still does it because it’s a way to keep telling the story about what running has meant to her life.
“It’s who I am,” she said. “I love to run.”
“Never stop believing in yourself,” is her advice to young runners. “Find your space and run your own race,” she said.
Going into the 1984 Olympics, Greta Weitz was favored, having never lost a marathon. But Ms. Benoit-Samuelson was determined that the Olympic Medal would be hers if she stuck to her own strategy, she said.
Mr. Keflezighi talked about the last two miles of the Boston race this year, saying he was well ahead of his nearest competitor and feeling positive, but had a choice to slow down a bit, allowing his challenger to catch up, or to keep going with the determination to win. Allowing a close competitor to catch up is dangerous because it gives that person momentum that can beat you, he said. So he ran all out and finished a winner.
“I knew I had it, but it’s never over until you cross the finish line,” he said.
“You have to have patience,” Ms. Benoit-Samuelson said. “It’s all about pacing yourself.”
Both described running as a life lesson in that it has its difficult, but also, wonderful moments.
“You know you’re going to have to work hard no matter how you finish,” Mr. Keflezighi said.
“Life is tough, but life is also glorious,” Ms. Benoit-Samuelson said.
The two had another date at Shelter Island School with students and community members before they headed off to the American Legion Hall for Friday night’s Pasta Party and, of course, race day today.