He is easily spotted among a sea of runners as another athlete wearing a fluorescent green vest with the word “GUIDE” matches his stride.
Meek’s journey as a runner is both remarkable and inspiring.
He’s legally blind, with no vision in his right eye and limited vision in his left, extending only about 20-30 feet ahead.
He began his running career at the Delmar Youth Club in first grade and has been representing his school team since eighth grade.
His visual impairment is a result of a battle with a brain tumor at the age of 4, which left him with optic nerve damage.
Despite these challenges, Meek has become a dedicated distance runner.
Cross-country courses present significant hurdles for Meek, with complex terrain, rocks, roots, curbs, and even trees.
Two years ago, during the Nike Cross Northeast Regionals at Bowdoin State Park, Meek had a memorable encounter with a tree.
“There was just a tree in the middle,” he recalls talking to the Daily Gazette. “For me, high contrast makes it easier to see things, and I guess it just kind of blended in, so I didn’t really see it very well.”
The incident didn’t deter him; he got back on his feet and continued racing, driven by adrenaline and determination.
His classmate and team co-captain, Ansen Chamberlain, appreciates the experience of running alongside Meek.
“It’s fun to run with him,” says Chamberlain. “It doesn’t ever feel like it’s a burden to run with him. Obviously, I want to make sure he doesn’t run into anything. But he doesn’t make it something I need to be concerned about.”
Coach Andrew Rickert echoes these sentiments, describing Meek as “an absolute joy to coach.”
Meek’s character and lack of complaints about his limitations have made him an exceptional team member.
“He’s never asked to be treated any differently than any of the other guys,” Rickert emphasizes. “If he falls, he gets right back up. That’s the thing that’s so remarkable.”
Although Meek hasn’t asked for special treatment, cross-country races demand guidance.
Courses like Grout Run in Schenectady, with sharp turns and changes in elevation, present particular challenges. Here, guides play a crucial role in ensuring Meek’s safety and performance.
The process hasn’t been without its challenges. Bethlehem had to petition the New York State Department of Education for an accommodation allowing Meek to run with a guide, as the use of an unregistered pacer in distance running is discouraged and may lead to disqualification.
Before each race, Meek communicates with his guides to discuss potential obstacles. He prefers them on his left side to maintain visibility and avoid accidental collisions.
Their partnership is built on trust and communication, ensuring a successful race.
While Meek has faced challenges this season, he’s moving forward. He’s in the process of applying to colleges in New York and Boston, with plans to study business or computer science.
As he looks ahead to the future, he reflects on his time with the team and the upcoming outdoor track season.
It’s a bittersweet moment, says Meek, who’s enjoyed being a part of the team for many years.
Rickert sums up the valuable lesson that Meek imparts to his peers: resilience and the ability to bounce back from setbacks.
“The lesson there is remarkable,” Rickert says. “We’re all going to take some spills in life, and for him to show these guys that it’s no big deal, just get back up and keep on moving, that’s the biggest thing to me.”
Chamberlain, who’s known Meek since second grade, finds inspiration in his friend’s steadfast dedication.
He says, “Because I’ve known him so long, he’s steadfast, he’s so dedicated, and that’s really inspiring.”
In the world of guiding, Sean Meek has shown that there’s more than one way to help someone navigate the journey.
All quotes from The Daily Gazette, by Mike MacAdam