article by Sarah Spain

The Mule

Patrick Meek is in Germany right now, so someone else must be parking the cars at the Waldorf Astoria in Park City, Utah. Meek, a 27-year-old long track speedskater, is a valet at the hotel as part of the Hilton HHonors Team USA athlete career program.

“The program really helps athletes continue competing,” said Meek last week while still on U.S. soil. “They give us really flexible hours so we have time to train but can work to pay the bills.”

When he’s not doing lap after lap at the ice rink, Meek is taking a lap around the hotel to park guest cars (sometimes an extra lap or two if the car is particularly sweet). Circles are nothing new to him — he’s been skating them all his life.

Meek was on blades as soon as he could walk, pushing a bucket around the rink where his father coached. Both his father and grandfather were speedskaters, so it was only natural that Meek follow in their footsteps.

Growing up in Chicago, Meek became friends with another Windy City skater, Shani Davis, who won gold in Turin and Vancouver.

“He’s a great guy,” said Meek. “He sometimes gets a bad reputation from the media and stuff, but he’s always been so supportive and a really good friend.”

While Davis has already achieved his Olympic dream twice, Meek is still working toward his own. He has admitted that he doesn’t believe he has the pure talent of most other skaters and that his successes are the result of good, old-fashioned hard work — the kind of hard work that results in 30-inch thighs and the nickname Mule. Meek explained the moniker on his website.

“I don’t always look pretty out there,” he wrote. “I am stubborn to a fault. It takes a lot to wear me down. I am not the favorite barn animal. I [can] be cantankerous. And more often than not, I get the job done out there.”

Only a guy nicknamed Mule would be stubborn and tough enough to add further sacrifices to an already grueling Olympic journey. Meek hasn’t had a sip of alcohol since May 7, and he doesn’t plan to have one until the closing ceremony of the Sochi Games. A lot of athletes make dietary sacrifices to improve their play, but it’s tough to imagine most skipping a postgame beverage or New Year’s Eve tipple at midnight.

It’s those kind of sacrifices that have helped Meek improve, recording his best marks of the season in every event he raced at the U.S. Long Track Speedskating Championships in December, including a career-best 13:26.06 in the 10,000 meters, good for a silver medal.

This weekend, Meek will try to set a few more career bests at the speedskating World Cup in Inzell, Germany. With the Olympics a year away, his sole focus is to continue improving with each competition and put himself in position to represent the U.S. in Sochi.

Meek hopes he’ll be celebrating in Sochi with a pint or two, his dream finally realized.