An old sports anthology television program used to open with an announcer extolling “the thrill of victory” and lamenting “the agony of defeat.”
William Meeker once knew more about the latter than he would have liked. Not any more.
An M.B.A. graduate student in William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business, Meeker won the men’s single scull (1x) at the American Collegiate Rowing Association’s (ACRA) national championship in Gainesville, Georgia, in May. His time of 7:35.507 was about three seconds faster than that of Reid Cucci of the University of Delaware.
When the race was over, and Meeker had come from behind using a strong sprint over the final 300 meters of a 2,000-meter race, the sportsmanship inherent in the sport began.
Cucci – a member of the Under 23 National team – walked over to Meeker, offered congratulations and, in keeping with tradition, presented him with the shirt he wore during the race.
The third-place finisher, from the University of Chicago, couldn’t find Meeker after the race, but left a note on his shell that Meeker said he may well frame.
“He said, essentially, that he was impressed with how good a sprinter I was and beyond that, [he appreciated] the way I handled myself after the win,” Meeker said. “He said I wasn’t boastful, didn’t brag and didn’t make a scene.
“This regatta really meant a lot to me. It was the culmination of so much effort and really finishing my college rowing career off really, really strong. I’ve had a lot of tough losses.”
As an undergraduate student at George Mason, Meeker was part of a four-man team that was favored to win the national championship, had the fastest times in the heats – and then finished fourth.
“It was difficult to miss the medal stand,” he said.
Two years ago, that same team finished second to Michigan for the national championship by a seat, similar to a losing by a “nose” in horse racing.
Meeker jokingly said that it seemed he’d been preparing for the ACRA championship since the day he started rowing, at least the day he joined the W&M club team last fall. But when he didn’t perform as well as he expected in October at the Head of the Charles regatta, he kicked his training into another gear. He practiced six days a week, rowing 10 to 15 miles daily. He biked to and from practice several times a week, lifted weights twice weekly.
“It became a part-time job, but it was worth it,” he said.
At the Dad Vail in Philadelphia in mid-May, just before the ACRA championship, Meeker finished fifth, but got a good look at 40 or so schools and handicapped the competition.
Cucci, he predicted correctly, would be his toughest opponent.
In the finals, Cucci raced to a boat-length lead, and Meeker said he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to catch him.
“But I had a moment where I could see that I had started to gain ground on him, and I really kicked it up and started sprinting,” he said. “I actually ended up beating him by a bit of open water.”When he returns to W&M in the fall, Meeker will take on a new challenge. He’ll coach the men’s novice squad while continuing to compete in the senior category. He plans to graduate from the MBA program in the spring of 2017.