Take a listen to Meb Keflezighi’s running playlist and you’ll find plenty of hip-hop. An example: “Empire State of Mind,” by Jay-Z featuring Alicia Keys.
“Any music is great, but hip-hop especially because it’s what I grew up to,” said Keflizighi, this year’s winner of the Boston Marathon. “It gets me in a nice cadence. I love music and it allows me to be who I am and run freely.”
Keflezighi, 38, became the first American to win the Boston Marathon in more than three decades. A victory made doubly meaningful as it came the year after the horrific bombings which claimed four lives and injured dozens. Last year, Keflezighi was watching from the stands and said he left just 5 minutes before the explosions.
This year, he honored the dead with their names handwritten onto his racing bib.
“It was the most meaningful victory ever because of what happened [last year],” he explained. “I did it for Boston and did it for the U.S.A. and did it for the world.”
He counts this victory as even more significant than his win at the New York City Marathon in 2009 or his silver medal at the 2004 Olympics. Achievements all made even more incredible considering that he “never knew running was a sport” until he moved to the United States.
Keflezighi spent the first decade of his life in Eritrea, a country on the Horn of Africa where a war for independence from neighboring Ethiopia meant that he lived with “soldiers with guns everywhere.” Keflezighi remembered he and his siblings would hide in cactus bushes when they knew soldiers were approaching the village.
“It was not much of a childhood.”
He and his family moved to San Diego, Calif., in 1987 with “just the clothes on our back.” His father woke up the children at 4:30 a.m. so they could get in three extra hours of studying before school began. That usually meant pulling out the dictionary and improving their English, word by word.
His P.E. teacher challenged the class to put in their best efforts for the weekly mile-run. Determined not only to get an A, but a free T-shirt and his picture in the classroom window, Keflezighi ran it in 5 minutes and 20 seconds.
“[My P.E. teacher] said ‘Wow, we’ve got an Olympian here,’” he said. “I had no idea what the Olympics were. Whoever thought in 7th grade, this is where I’d be standing.”
Though Keflezighi believes his “running career has been fulfilled” by winning the Boston Marathon, he still plans to do a few more, including another New York City marathon.
“I’m blessed to have the life that I have,” he said.
ABC News' David Kovenetsky contributed to this episode.