Imagine if you were playing in a pick-up basketball game and Rajon Rondo subbed in to run the point for your team. Or, what if Patrice Bergeron jumped over the boards in the men’s league to skate a shift for your side.
Part-time Falmouth resident Elizabeth Lawton had one of those types of experiences in the Falmouth Road Race. Somewhere near mile three of the race, the former college track runner saw one of her all-time favorite runners out on the course just a bit ahead of her. She ran hard to catch up to him, grabbed her phone and asked him to shoot a selfie with him, which he did with a smile on his face.
Superstar runner Meb Keflezghi, who spent the week as the unofficial face of the Falmouth Road Race, grinned while running and made Lawton’s day. That day, however, was only going to get better.
Giving one of her best personal efforts in years, the 26-year-old spotted Keflezghi again close to mile six of the race, along with another legend, Joan Benoit. Trailing the icons by about 200 feet, she hoofed it hard to get close to them and finally did near the top of the final hill. She called out to Keflezghi and offered him a high-five. He not only slapped hands with her, but took her hand to run down the final hill into Falmouth Heights, with thousands of people cheering them on. Lawton reached out and grabbed Benoit’s hand as well and crossed the finish line with the Olympic medalists, giving her a story she will be telling with a smile for the rest of her life.
“It was awesome. Meb’s such a down-to-earth and friendly guy. The way he embraces his fans, not a lot of professional athletes do that,” Lawton said.
Lawton wasn’t the only runner, or member of the community, that Keflezghi made an impact on over the weekend. The winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon, the 2009 New York City Marathon and a 2004 Olympic silver medal had a hamstring injury that prevented him from running competitively in Falmouth. Instead he was brought to town to serve as a goodwill ambassador for the race, and the sport of running. To borrow from another sport, Keflezghi hit a home run.
Throughout the weekend he was as visible as any high profile athlete has ever been in any capacity in Falmouth. Friday night many people showed up for a “Run With Meb” night that was put on by the Falmouth Road Race.
On Saturday night, Keflezghi showed up at the annual Falmouth Mile to greet more fans. He also cheered on all of the racers, awarded medals to the high school winners and then took a number of photographs with the young runners, who had stars in their eyes throughout the experience.
In the world of running, especially here in the United States, there aren’t many bigger names than Keflezghi’s. The man, who fled war-torn Eritrea as a youth for American, was recently honored with a dinner at the White House where he and his wife dined at the same table as President and Mrs. Obama and former President Jimmy Carter.
He said that his experience that day was dream-like. On Sunday, though, he was the one that was supplying the memories for his fellow runners. Wearing a “Boston Strong” Red Sox hat, Keflezghi did not start the race with the elite runners. He instead went out in a later pulse with the runners who had to pay their way into the race.
After finishing his run with Lawton, Keflezghi went back out on the course. He finished the last mile with race director Dave McGilvray. Then he went back up and ran down with some more people.
“This sport has done so much for me. Instead of me going back and running a secluded three-mile cool-down by myself, I wanted to go run with my people, and it was an honor,” Keflezghi said.
And those people do indeed love their champion. FRR race operations manager Matt Auger just smiled when the subject of Keflezghi, who has finished twice in Falmouth but never won the race, was brought up. “He’s just one of the most ridiculously nice people that’s been put on this earth,” Auger said. “He finished his run and kept running back up the hill, giving high-fives. It was awesome...He’s so welcoming and generous with his time, and people can see how he’s just a regular guy.”
That regular guy made a big impact over the weekend.
“I love to smile, I love to make an impact,” he said. “I feel honored to be an ambassador for the sport of running.”