Life During Lockdown: Hawi Keflezighi
Hawi and I got to know each other in the running world. He’s an agent who represents some of the top athletes (his brother and American distance running legend Meb, Olympian Aliphine Tuliamuk and many more) in the sport. We also both went to UCLA (Hawi went there for both undergrad and law school), so we share a love for that university. Hawi is a generous and kind soul whose family truly represents the American dream. The Keflezighis escaped the war in Eritrea and emigrated to San Diego with a growing family eventually totaling 11 kids. With Russom, Hawi’s father driving a cab and serving as a role model, all of the Keflezighi siblings achieved success in the US based on hard work and determination. Meb’s autobiography Run to Overcome details much of their incredible family journey.
Hawi has always been helpful to me personally and positive in his outlook . He now lives with his family in Indianapolis, so I don’t get to see him in person often. But he represents some athletes on the HOKA NAZ Elite team, where I’m on the board of directors, so we do get to connect at races. We shared a tremendous moment in Atlanta in February when NAZ athlete Aliphine Tuliamuk won the Olympic Trials marathon. I’ll never forget being in the hotel lobby with Hawi and coach Ben Rosario when Aliphine came in after her victory. We all got to hug and cry and enjoy that extraordinary moment together. I asked Hawi how he’s doing given not only the pandemic but the awakening around racial injustice in the United States.
1. Give me some highlights and lowlights from your first two months in lockdown mode
a. The highlight of lockdown has been spending more time with my wife and kids. I usually travel a lot for work, and most of my travel includes the weekends. The event cancellations and travel restrictions have forced me to stay home, and luckily no one at my house is complaining.
b. To be honest, for me this lockdown has been filled with blessings and gratefulness. I am grateful that me, my family, my clients and friends have been mostly safe, healthy, and happy during Covid-19. Knowing that 40 million Americans have lost jobs and over 100,000 Americans have lost their lives as a result of Covid-19, those of us with jobs and good health must recognize how fortunate we are. These stats make me appreciate the things that are sometimes easy to take for granted, such as having a job, having good health, having a happy home and having life. Although I grew up underprivileged, I now know that I do have certain privileges in my life now and this realization helps me sympathize with and advocate for the many people who are struggling during these times.
2. How have you grown personally and professionally during this disruption?
Personally, I’ve tried to deepen my relationship with everyone in my family, from my wife, kids, siblings, parents, cousins, and even my friends. I have a big extended family and friends network, so I haven’t been able to deepen the bond with everyone, but it is a work in progress. Luckily everyone if my family and friends network is just one phone (or zoom) call away from strengthening the bond. In my outreach to my friends and family, I try to focus on quality interactions, not only the quantity of interactions. I’ve always had a strong bond with my father, and that bond has only deepened as we’re getting close to the finish line on his book. This is a project we’ve been working on and off for about 10 years, so it is gratifying to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Most importantly we have an encyclopedia of our family history for generations to come and now we are now shortening and editing this book to share my 83-year-old dad’s inspirational, faithful and purposeful journey with the world. The goal is to have the book published both in English and our native language of Tigrinya.
Professionally, I am proud that I was able to maintain my routine and schedule even during all of the changes caused by Covid-19. The first three weeks of quarantine were some of the busiest and most important days for my business. It was during this time that the NCAA indoor and outdoor championships were canceled and thus accelerating the recruiting process for NCAA seniors. These ongoing conversations resulted in my agency “landing’ Dani Jones as a client. Dani Jones is one of the most accomplished distance runners in NCAA history. At the same time, my team and I were able to handle the overwhelming amount of media requests for Aliphine Tuliamuk, fresh off her Olympic Marathon Trials victory, and helped each of our clients adjust to the changing competition schedule filled with postponements and cancellations.
So, while it seemed that many people were adjusting to a slower pace the first few weeks of quarantine, I was working hard to make sure that the progress and momentum for our agency continued. This set the tone and pace for my workday during the extended quarantine and stay at home period. When I’m not traveling, I’m used to working from home, so the adjustment wasn’t as challenging for me. Fortunately, my team and I have been able to stay productive and be there for our clients during these challenging times. The lesson learned through all of this was to stick as close as possible to your routine, especially during times of uncertainty.
3. Has your relationship with your athletes and your community changed as a result of having no races or events on the schedule?
Our agency has always taken a lot of pride in having strong relationships with our clients during the good and bad times in an athlete’s career. Interestingly, I have developed an even stronger bond with a lot of our clients during this period of uncertainty. Me and my colleagues (John Hiracy and Liam Fayle) are always on call to help our clients with anything they may need. During this time, we were even more intentional and proactive to reach out to the athletes via e-mail, texts and phone calls to check-in to see how they were doing and what they needed from us. There were a lot of questions we couldn’t answer, such as when will races come back (especially when these questions were coming in March), but just having an open and honest line of communication was important. Knowing what questions and concerns our clients have helped us ask the right questions within our network. As an agency we’ve tried to handle adversity with integrity and have tried to help our clients do the same.
4. Can running and endurance sports generally create positive change in the world during a crisis like this?
Nationally, we are dealing with two significant crises simultaneously or at least they are overlapping with each other. With Covid-19, it caught a lot of us by surprise and a lot of us were not adequately prepared for this type of virus. On the individual, industry and societal levels, we need to learn how to better prepare for these types of infectious diseases both in the present and future. Running and endurance sports have always been an outlet for people to deal with stressful circumstances, and that is the case once again. It seems that more and more people are running and walking as mechanisms to help cope with the shifting lifestyles and priorities created by Covid-19. For our industry, it is a big challenge, especially when it comes to mass participation events such as road races. But I am confident our industry will pivot, adjust, innovate and prevail. It will take a lot of effort and some trial and error, but we will face the challenges and find both short term and long-term solutions. I am confident of this.
In addition to Covid-19, our nation is dealing with the issue of systemic racism and violent racism that have not been addressed adequately over the centuries and decades. Many of us, including myself, have lived our lives with the knowledge and expectation that racism exists and will continue to exist. At the same time, there are many people who are in denial or unaccepting of this harsh reality that racism and systemic racism exists in our society. For those who have been and are the victims of the generations long impact of systemic racism, its existence cannot be denied, overlooked or ignored. On the other end of the spectrum are those who are racist and perpetuate a racist agenda, mission and objectives. We all know both ends of this spectrum exist, it is just a matter of how many people fit in these “categories” and for how long. Most of us fall somewhere along this spectrum, so we have to decide which side we’re on and what are we going to do to support the side we believe in. When those of us in the middle of the spectrum make a stand for what is right and relinquish the normalcy and comfort that comes with the status quo, justice and equity can and will prevail. In this case, it should be Everyone vs. racism. And if those of us who claim not to be racist, and disagree with racism can become anti-racists, then we have a chance to win the war and eradicate racism.
“While diversity and inclusion work is an important step in this process, anti-racism work encompasses demographic change at every level of the institution in conjunction with the adoption of anti-racist institutional norms, values, and practices. For profound transformation of institutions, diversity and inclusion work is not sufficient when addressing structural processes that are rooted in traditions of racial exclusion and privilege and/or which discriminate based on group disparities.”
https://shorensteincenter.org/programs/anti-racism-accountability/ (Harvard Kennedy School Shorenstein Center)
I have many thoughts on how we need to confront and overcome the issues of racism to create positive changes in our world. I am on a journey of processing, writing, articulating and sharing these thoughts. Stay tuned.