From the moment the gun fired until he crossed the finish, Bernard felt as if he were sprinting, hurling himself to the line with every ounce of strength he could produce. When it was over, he’d run the metric mile in 3:34.48, a new personal best, obliterating his personal definition of the word “possible.”
When he got back to the United States, “Bernard talked about that 3:30 pace,” his coach, James Li, remembers, “and how he knew the difference.”
For Bernard, it was the confirmation that he could truly be one of the best—a puzzle-piece glimpse at what he could become. And now, 15 years since that summer, Bernard Lagat has pieced together the big picture.
His accolades today include a bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney games and a silver at the Athens games in 2004; four gold, two silver and one bronze medal at various world championships; wins at some of the most storied races on the planet; and even a eight-win dynasty at the famed Wanamaker Mile at New York’s Millrose Games.
He is, in short, the most decorated American distance runner in history.
A Sister’s Legacy
Bernard’s story, however, started years before and in a place far from the stadiums where he became a legend on the track.
In a small town in eastern Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, Bernard watched his older sister Mary mature into an international-caliber runner in her own right. Mary bought him his first pair of running shoes and encouraged him to discover what he was capable of.
“Every time I looked at her, I wanted to be like her,” he says. “She laid the foundation for all of us in the family to follow running. She told me I could be somebody out of this when I didn’t know what being somebody out of running was.”
But Mary didn’t stop at teaching Bernard about running. While he dreamt of glory on the track, Mary helped him see that running could provide him with even more important opportunities in the classroom. So, following Mary’s guidance, 21-year-old Bernard accepted a running scholarship to an American university—Washington State. And it was there that he met Coach Li, the mentor who would guide his training for the rest of his career.
“He had never experienced a temperature below 40 degrees in his life,” Coach Li told Runner’s World magazine. “He made new friends, he made good grades, and it was him who did that. It was that unflappable character from the start.”
Coach Li helped Bernard tailor his training to get the most out of his body, and it paid off quickly. After Stuttgart in 1998, Bernard set a U.S. collegiate record in the 1,500, landed a spot in the top five on the world rankings, made the Kenyan Team in 2000 and then brought home a bronze medal from Sydney. Then,in 2001, he ran the second-fastest 1,500-meter time in history.
Later, in 2007, Bernard was unbeatable at the World Championship, claiming gold medals in both the 1,500 and the 5,000-meter—the first World Championship win in the men’s 5,000 ever for an American. More medals followed at the World Championships in 2009 (a silver and a bronze) and 2011 (a silver).
Among the new friends Bernard met at college was an athletic trainer named Gladys Tom. Despite Bernard’s requests for a date, Gladys insisted she didn’t date student athletes. When Bernard forwent his final year of college eligibility, he asked Gladys again if she’d go out with him, and this time the answer was “yes.” Four years later, the couple married.
In 2004, Bernard decided to pay back the nation that had given him so much opportunity. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen before going to Athens, where he added a silver medal to his tally.
“When I came to college in the United States, I was given a scholarship; I didn’t have to pay for anything,” Bernard remembers. “So ever since college, I’ve wanted nothing but to give back to this country that has given me so much—to race as an American.”
In 2006, Bernard and Gladys had their first child, Miika, and Bernard immediately recognized that his true calling, even more than running, is as a father. In 2009, the Lagats added a second child, Gianna, and Bernard’s love of his children only grew stronger.
“Kids—my heart is kids,” Bernard says. “They’ve made me much more mellow before a race. Gladys now has to tell me, ‘Hey, time to get serious.’”
No matter how loud the track or how packed the stadium, Bernard says he can always hear Miika and Gianna cheering for him. And for Bernard, those are the voices that matter most.
Melaleuca—A Natural Fit
When Bernard discovered Melaleuca, he and his family immediately embraced it. Gladys loves MelaPower®, and the whole family has taken to the nutritional products.
“My children love it,” Bernard says. “When I received my first delivery, I opened a box of FiberWise™ cereal. When I came back from training, my kids had eaten all of it! We give them some Strawberry FiberWise cereal in their lunches every day, and they eat it as a snack.
“For me, of course, the Sustain® Sport is an even more important product, because I have to replenish a lot of electrolytes after the intense workouts I’m doing.”
Last month, Bernard celebrated his 38th birthday and reached an age when most athletes have hung up their racing spikes in favor of a comfortable retirement. But for Bernard, retirement isn’t even a consideration.
“I still want to do my best,” Bernard says. “The old man is not going to say, ‘I’m done now’—not yet. I’m really excited that I have some good years behind me, but right now, I’m having so much fun. I’m training really well, and I’m enjoying it.”