NEW YORK — 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 distance runner.

“It’s a year that changed my life,” Keflezighi said Tuesday.

Before the 2009 marathon, Keflezighi flew in the Thursday of race week and told 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.

So this time Keflezighi arrived Monday, nearly a week before Sunday’s race. Tuesday he held a news conference. This morning is a breakfast appearance with a new sponsor, and there’s an event tonight to launch his new charitable foundation.

All this hardly seemed possible when he stood at the starting line last Nov. 1.

“A year ago, I think a lot of people doubted that he would get back to this level,” Bob Larsen, his longtime coach, said.

Not after the stress fracture in his hip that Keflezighi once feared would end his career.

Keflezighi had won silver at the Athens Olympics, the first American man to medal in the marathon since 1976.

The past year has been full of travel and speaking engagements. Keflezighi conceded he was probably behind in preparations compared to last year. But, Larsen said, his pupil is close enough to again run his best.

“I’m healthy; I’m here,” Keflezighi said. “That’s what you can ask for getting to the marathon.”