Meb Keflghizi is perhaps the greatest American distance runner. He is preparing to compete in the Men’s Marathon on Sunday August 21, one of the final events of the 31st Olympiad. The marathon is a grueling event, requiring 26.2 miles of endurance, speed, tactics, and mental fortitude. The winning time is expected to be around the 2:10 mark, which means an average mile of below 5 minutes. But Meb, as he is known, is remarkable for another reason. He is a naturalized US citizen, competing under the US flag, as a native born Eritrean. His reason for immigrating to the United States – we accepted him and his family as refugees. From child refugee, Meb has become one of the most decorated runners in American history, and will be looking to add an Olympic Gold Medal in the marathon to his formidable litany of accomplishments.
Meb’s Journey to the U.S.
Eritrea is a small east African nation that suffered a 30 year civil war with Ethiopia, with which it was a part of when Ethiopia became a sovereign nation. Eritrea finally gained its independence, but in the years of civil war, life was dangerous for many Eritreans. Meb’s father was a liberation supporter. With civil war raging, Meb’s family had to escape. They temporarily escaped to refugee camps in Italy. Italy was a colonial conqueror of Ethiopia and Eritrea.
In Italy, Meb’s family was accepted as refugees to the United States. They settled in San Diego when Meb was 12 years old. In high school, Meb realized that he had world class speed, and he attended UCLA on a scholarship for track and field. He became a naturalized US citizen in 1998 in Los Angeles. Fittingly, it was at the Los Angeles Marathon on February 13, 2016 that Meb qualified for the Olympics Marathon.
One of Meb’s great American moments was winning the Boston Marathon in 2014. The Boston Marathon is the most prestigious long distance event, drawing the best distance runners in the world to compete against each other. His victory was momentous for many reasons, chief among them being that American men do not often win the event and because it was the year after the terrorist bombing at the finish line. Meb ran the race in American flag colors and soared to his personal best time of 2:08:37.
A Small Part of the American Immigration System
The United States accepts thousands of refugees and asylum seekers each year. It is a pathway to permanent residence and citizenship, as well. Meb is a great example of American Olympic spirit, but also of the American immigration system. The immigration system has 4 basic pathways to entry: family, employment, humanitarian, and lottery. The humanitarian aspect can often be lost in the shuffle. On Sunday, it will be on full display when Meb runs 26.2 miles for the United States and aims to capture an Olympic Gold Medal. Both for his athletic prowess and his incredible story of perseverance, Meb is an inspiration for Americans.