Speedskater aims to give back while chasing Olympic dream
Speedskater Patrick Meek hopes to take a few more steps toward the 2014 Sochi Olympics, when he takes the ice for the U.S. Long Track Speedskating Championships that start Thursday at the Utah Olympic Oval.
He also hopes to keep giving back.
The aspiring Olympian recently joined forces with Charity: Water, a nonprofit charity that aspires to bring clean drinking water to people in developing nations around the world. The organization says 800 million people worldwide don't have access to it that's about one in nine and Meek has launched a fundraising campaign that he hopes can piggy-back on his ascending athletic fortunes.
"Being an athlete is kind of an inherently selfish endeavor," he said. "So I want to accomplish my own goals, and at the same time accomplish a greater good for some other people who obviously need it."
Meek is one of dozens of speedskaters including two-time Olympian and world-record holder Shani Davis Â who will compete this weekend for national titles and places on the U.S. roster for the second half of the World Cup season.
Davis figures to be one of the standouts, having clearly recovered from a recent groin injury.
The 30-year-old from Chicago finished first and second in two 1,000-meter races at a World Cup meet in China less than two weeks ago, and has won the last two Olympic titles at that distance. He's also the dominant figure in the 1,500 and the world-record holder in both distances, and figures to compete in his third Olympics in Sochi.
Meek, meanwhile, is still aiming for his first Olympics, after learning to skate by pushing a 10-gallon bucket around an ice rink where his father worked as a club coach near Chicago. His grandfather had been a speedskater, too, and Meek recalled that "my dad put me on skates when he was fairly confident that I could walk."
All these years later, he's on the cusp of realizing his dream.
Having spent eight years training in Utah, Meek is a strong bet to make the team for Sochi in the distance events the 5,000 and 10,000 meters Â and he's providing with his new charity work a feel-good story for U.S. Speedskating, whose publicity lately has been almost all bad, centered around a fractious short-track scandal.
"He had such passion and enthusiasm for Charity: Water and wanting to get involved," said Kaitlyn Jankowski, a charity representative who works with Meek. "He's done an amazing job."
Already an ambassador for the Right to Play charity founded by Norwegian speedskating great Johann Olav Koss, the 27-year-old Meek sought out Charity: Water and offered to help because he felt strongly about its cause. Meek is particularly attuned to geopolitical issues, having earned a political science degree from the University of Utah.
"I skate on millions of gallons of the cleanest water known to man," he said. "And to learn that so many people don't have access to such a basic need â¦ it was pretty astounding."
Meek hopes to help increase awareness about the charity, as well as raise money.
His immediate fundraising goal is $1,000, which Charity: Water says can bring clean drinking water to 50 people all as Meek continues skating toward the Olympics while living at the Waldorf-Astoria in Park City and working there part-time as a concierge, as part of a sponsorship agreement.
"When you have that kind of opportunity â¦ literally the least I can do is reach out to other people around the world who are less fortunate than I am," he said.
U.S. Speedskating Championships
P At the Utah Olympic Oval, Kearns, Racing begins each day at 9 a.m.
Thursday •Â Women's 3,000 and men's 5,000
Friday • Men's and women's 500
Saturday •Â Men's and women's 1,000
Sunday •Â Men's and women's 1,500
Monday •Â Women's 5,000 mass start, men's 10,000 mass start
How to give
O To donate to speedskater Patrick Meek, visit his charity page at http://mycharitywater.org/speedskating4water