Meeting Meb Keflezighi and seeing the light

Joy to the run. Illustration by Jim Carroll
Joy to the run.
Illustration by Jim Carroll

Two major events happened to me this past week.

The first was meeting Olympic Marathon silver medalist and 2009 NYC Marathon men’s champion Meb Keflezighi. The second can only be described as a miracle — one of Biblical proportions.

Let’s start with meeting Meb. Last Friday, Sony organized a media meet-and-greet with Meb in Central Park. We tried out a new Sony MP3 player and were given the opportunity to run a couple miles with Meb, followed by lunch at the Boathouse. If I had to use one word to describe Meb it would be “jolm” — a combination of joyful and calm. He actually inspired me to make up a word (get to the caboose, Dr. Seuss).

Meb patiently answered all of our marathon-related questions and humbly talked about his Olympic experience. If I had won that Olympic medal, I’d still be wearing it (“I’m sorry, did my Olympic silver medal scratch your salad bar sneeze-guard?”) But he really lit up when he talked about his family, sharing a touching story about an overdue reunion with his father, giving us every detail of when he first saw his dad’s face. And, with a big smile, he explained how he eats a specific pre-race meal made from one of his mom’s special recipes. He actually radiated joy. I can’t believe I just wrote that corny line, but that’s what happened. He didn’t just seem to be joyful about running, he seemed to be joyful about life itself. It just felt good being around the guy.

The second event I experienced was having an entire change of heart about running. In the past, I’ve compared it to getting rickets or having a tooth extracted. But on Saturday morning, that all changed. I don’t know if it came from meeting Meb the day before or the fact I sprinkled ecstasy on my Corn Flakes (just kidding about the ecstasy thing), but I couldn’t put my running shoes on fast enough. I actually wanted to run! My six-mile run was like a hybrid of the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the board game Candy Land. It was like I was running two feet off the ground. At one point, I swear a blue bird landed on my shoulder and a dog high-fived me. I was Saint Francis of Assisi in Asics. Everything seemed to glow. I was happy.

But what I realized when I got home was that it wasn’t happiness I had experienced, but joy. Happiness is a conditional feeling based on outside events (getting the job, getting the last cupcake) and can leave on a moment’s notice (getting fired, cupcake falling on floor). Joy, on the other hand, is a fixed state that comes from inside and radiates out. It’s a deep serenity that lives in a place that the busy modern world can’t get to. I had forgotten that feeling, one that seemed so plentiful when I was 10, covered up now by years of disappointments and complaints. But on Saturday I experienced it again, and people like Meb have shown me that that feeling of joy can stay long after the shoes have come off.


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