NEW YORK (AP) — The reigning New York City Marathon champion boarded a plane to come defend his title, and another passenger asked, “Are you Meb Keflezighi?”

The first American man in 27 years to win the storied race is no longer an anonymous U.S. distance runner.

READ MORE: Storm Watch: Officials Hoping To Avoid Repeat Of Ida With Preparations For Nor'easter

“It’s a year that changed my life,” Keflezighi said Tuesday, back in New York and suddenly the center of attention.

READ MORE: NYPD: Man Shot Inside Union Square Subway Station

Before the 2009 marathon, Keflezighi flew in the Thursday of race week and told his sponsors he needed to focus on his preparations.

“When you come back as a defending champion, you can’t really isolate yourself like that,” Hawi Keflezighi, his brother and agent, said with a smile.

MORE NEWS: Exclusive: CBS2 Cameras On Hand At Unannounced Security Screenings At Troubled New York City High Schools

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.