Monday, January 25, 2016

Inspired by Greatness. Humbled by Humility - National Black Marathoners Association Induction Celebration

On December 12, 2015 the National Black Marathoners Association (NBMA) inducted nine marathoners and ultramathoners as 2015 Hall of Fame Honorees – three of whom we have the privilege to know. The official annual summit and hall of fame banquet took place in Dallas, TX and several of our friends flew to Dallas for the event. A committee of eight led by two highly dedicated individuals, Rudy and Laura, coordinated a local celebration at the Lake Merritt Boat House on January 24, 2016 so that the rest of us could honor their accomplishments.

Founded in 2004, the NBMA is a not-for-profit organization that encourages Black Americans to pursue a healthy lifestyle through running and walking. The National Black Distance Runner Hall of Fame honors athletes in three categories. The Trail Blazer and Distance Runner awards recognize lifetime runners who have demonstrated not only athletic performance but have also made an overall contribution of the sport of long distance running.  The third Hall of Fame category is the Running Community Service Award. This award recognizes lifetime volunteer service over a period of at least fifteen years to the running community. Community involvement includes financial donations, scholarship programs, youth programs, volunteer support, and developing relationships that benefit the mission of the club.

Mebrahtom "Meb" Keflezighi

Meb received the silver medal in the 2008 Olympic Marathon and won the 2009 New York City Marathon and the 2014 Boston Marathon. A tribute to his character, Meb carried the names of the victims of the 2013 Boston marathon bombings with him during the 2014 race. Meb became the first American citizen to win the race in over 30 years and at 38 years old, the oldest individual to win the race since 1931. Read more at  Rock n Roll's site here.

We have crossed paths with Meb on the Rock ‘n’ Roll circuit in his role as the VP of Running for Competitor Group, Inc. Not only is he an inspirational motivational speaker he has made himself quite accessible to those around him. We were on the same Southwest plane with Meb in 2014 headed to San Antonio, TX. I built up enough courage to ask him for a photo in the airport which he graciously posed for with us.

This year in San Antonio, during the 10k RNR race on Saturday, December 5, Meb doubled back to personally encourage the runners behind him. He was also waiting near the finish line at the half and full marathon the next day cheering on the finishers.  What a great ambassador for not only the RNR series but for running in general.

Lisa Felder

This NBMA trailblazer has completed over 300 marathons and 111 ultramarathons. Mama Lisa coached the East Bay Team in Training (TNT) run team for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) from 1998 through 2009. She launched the first ever TNT Ultra Team in 2009.

Coach Lisa earned the nickname Mama Lisa from a TNT participant who after assessing the spread of clothes, shoes, gear, food, etc. that she laid out for the team, he explained, “You’re more than our coach! You’re our mama!” The name stuck and that’s what we all affectionately call her.

Her story begins as a 238 lb mother who started walking around the soccer field to keep warm while watching her son play soccer. The first race she ever participated in was the Bay to Breakers. She completed her first marathon in just over three hours at the San Francisco marathon. Her personal passion for running, especially ultrarunning, is highly infectious. She has single handedly inspired almost all of the ultrarunners on the East Bay and became the most knowledgeable coach we’ve ever known to diagnose aggravations and address running injuries. She gives herself tirelessly to the cause. The story highlighting her dedication was begging people to break her out of the hospital while she was receiving treatments for stage 4 breast cancer because she desperately wanted to be out on the course with her participants at the Oakland marathon. Mama Lisa was always the last Coach out on the course, ringing her cow bell, and making sure every last runner and walker made it back from a long training. Our affection for Mama Lisa runs deep. She is living proof that you can do anything you want to do if you dedicate yourself to it.

As fate would have it, NBMA did the great honor of also inducting Mama Lisa’s husband, Alphonzo Jackson, into the Hall of Fame the very same year. Coach Al and Mama Lisa are a power couple and a force to be reckoned with. They have set an amazing example for others and are our inspiration for all that we do together on the marathoning circuit.

Alphonzo Jackson

Al was ranked third in the world in the 5k (16:28) and half marathon (1:15:28) in his age division in 1996 at 50 years old. He has completed 38 marathons, 7 duathlons, several triathlons, hundreds of 5Ks and 10Ks. His marathon personal record (PR) at the Los Angeles Marathon was 2:38:40.

He originally viewed himself as an elite athlete and the day finally came when he had to choose between continuing to pursue his own personal records or focusing his time and energy on helping others.  As a I remember the story, he discussed this fork in the road in his career with Mama Lisa who wisely said, “Where do you derive the greatest inspiration from? Your own personal achievements or the achievements of others?” The rest is history since Coach Al has served as the Head Coach for Team in Training's East Bay Run Team for 20 years. It wasn’t an easy transition from being an elite runner to figuring out how to coach people off the coach to complete a half or full marathon. Humbly, Coach Al openly shares his story how he underestimated how difficult it is to run a full marathon. So difficult in fact that he failed to complete his first two attempts. He made it to mile 24 the first time around before dropping out and then only made it to mile 22 the second time around. He had to learn that marathoning wasn’t about running fast enough to qualify for Boston, it was about mental toughness.

Knowing how hard it can be to complete a marathon, Coach Al did everything in his power to help his participants complete the event. My favorite Coach Al story was during the full marathon in Rome, Italy. I was with a fellow TNTer who as struggling toward the end of the race. I tried everything I could think of to help her continue to put one foot in front of the other. Coach Al ran up and took a completely different approach. He asked her, “What flavor?” She and I looked at each other quizzically. He repeated, “What flavor gelato do you want?” Not being able to think clearly she said, “Vanilla.” Coach Al was gone in a flash. Later I heard about how he ran to the closest gelato shop, cut in line, ordered a vanilla gelato cone, and ran back out on the course to find us. My fellow TNTer inhaled that gelato and took off running toward the finish line. Now that’s a coach who is truly willing to do anything to help his participants and someone who knows exactly the right thing to say and do at the right time.

From 2000 to 2010 (until funding ran out), Coach Al was also the Athletic Director/Coach for Students Run Oakland. This was his way of giving back something to his neighborhood and training leaders for the future. He believed that training these kids to be disciplined enough to complete a marathon, would help prepare them for the rest of their lives.

Being present with Coach Al is seeing charisma in action. He believes in you before you believe in yourself. His training mantras are well rehearsed and proclaimed loudly by all of his current and past participants. “If you don’t mind, it don’t matter” and “Just do the damn thing.”

One of his TNT participants was so inspired by Coach Al, that they wrote a letter to the Olympic committee and nominated him to carry the Olympic Torch for the United States in 2002. He describes this as one of the most memorable highlights of his life.

If the day finally comes that we hang up our racing shoes and retire, we'll look back on a lot of races and medals. But the things that we'll remember most are the people we met, especially the ones who inspired us to take the path that we travelled and continue to inspire generations by their example. 

Thank you, Meb, Coach Al and Mama Lisa. Because of you, we're marathoners for Life.

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