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LRC Fan, Soldier Writes: What is an American Distance Runner?

Russ Stewart
Major, United States Army

November 3, 2009


What is an American distance runner? As a high school and college runner in the 90ís, I was proud to see Bob Kennedy, a US distance runner, running with the Africans on the international level. After spending the last 13 years on active duty in the US military, I can tell you I am proud of any US runner who can run competitively on the international level just as I am proud of any person who becomes a successful military professional. For me, the definition of a US runner is simple>>a distance runner who is an American citizen. I use the same approach when defining service members in the military. Any person who successfully enlists or is commissioned in the military becomes a soldier, sailor, airmen or Marine. Many naturalized citizens have joined the US military and have served admirably in combat and some have paid the ultimate cost and given their life for their country. Naturalized citizens bleed the same color as citizens who were born in the United States. Some naturalized citizens have earned the Congressional Medal of Honor (the highest honor a service member can earn in combat); does that mean less since they were not born in the USA? I argue the same for naturalized citizens who win Olympic medals.

On November 1, 2009 I was extremely proud to see Meb Keflezighi win the New York City marathon. Ryan Hall and Meb Keflezghi are made of the same material who put in the hours daily to run at the highest level. Ryan and Meb train together, race together and hang out together. After the New York City Marathon, Ryan embraced Meb as a brother and fellow competitor not as a naturalized citizen. However, I did question why Meb was the only elite US runner I saw wearing USA attire and I felt it was fitting for Meb to win the New York City marathon while wearing USA gear. I argue for all US running champions to wear USA colors for the following year of competition as professional cyclist do.

The focus on Meb should be how he fought back from injury to regain his fitness and win the New York City Marathon. When runners speak of Alberto Salazar they do not refer to his heritage, they often refer to the fierce competitor he was when he ran in the duel in the sun. Meb like many other US distance runners of African origin fought hard to become an American. The process to become a citizen is not easy and the same determination to succeed on the track/roads is needed to claw through the bureaucracy to earn US citizenship.

The bottom line is an American distance runner is an American distance runner just as an American soldier is an American soldier.


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