6 marathons, 5 days, for cancer awareness

Cornell volleyball coach Jeff Meeker took the message and ran with it—literally—for five days and 1,035 laps around the indoor track of the college’s Small Multi-Sport Center. Meeker completed his ambitious 150-mile journey at about 1 a.m. on Saturday, May 12.

He did this while teaching an OCAAT class that met twice daily.

Dozens of supporters ran alongside Meeker and others cheered him to the finish as Cornell celebrated its 10th edition of Relay For Life. Meeker met his mileage count—the equivalent of nearly six marathons—and conquered his fundraising goal with $7,800 going to the American Cancer Society.

Meeker acknowledged the scene during his final few laps is what the student-organized event is all about.

“I was most excited about the 50-60 students running with me at the end. That was most impressive. They brought a smile to my face,” Meeker said. “Relay For Life provides opportunities for our students to be involved and impact a lot of lives.”

"Running is easy... cancer is hard." Volleyball coach Jeff Meeker (Photo by Jamie Kelly)
“Running is easy… cancer is hard.” Volleyball coach Jeff Meeker
(Photo by Jamie Kelly)

Cornell’s 41 teams raised more than $51,000 during Relay For Life. Meeker’s volleyball team brought in over $10,000, followed by Chemistry & Friends, led by chemistry Professor Emeritus Truman Jordan, with more than $7,500.

“Coach makes it a special event. He sets the tone for the entire campus, the whole community,” said first-year volleyball setter Sabrina Hargis. “This is a special way for everyone to be together, raise awareness and have fun in the process.”

A portion of the volleyball team’s proceeds came from Relay Recess, an event the Rams co-hosted with the college’s Office of Civic Engagement at Washington Elementary in Mount Vernon. The volleyball team earned an additional $1,000 during the annual Mary K. Meeker Highway 1 Challenge in March. Mary Meeker, Jeff’s mother, was diagnosed with cancer on the day of Relay For Life in 2006. She died in 2007. During that time, he became involved in Relay For Life. He remembers running 100 laps around the track the first year, and “thought it was a big deal.” That would be a mere training session for Meeker in preparation for this year’s event. He planned to go 10 times farther.

“At first, I was a little concerned when I set my goal,” Meeker said.

Hargis never doubted her coach.

“Of course he could do it,” Hargis said. “I cannot speak highly enough of him on and off the volleyball court. He’s so selfless.”

Meeker got serious about training in January and worked up to a 120-mile week by late April. It was then that he felt ready to tackle five challenging days that would see him on the track before daylight and arrive home just shy of midnight—all the while teaching a Fitness and Wellness class each morning and afternoon at the college.

Meeker broke up his 150-mile trek into three daily 10-mile sessions the week of May 7-11. He ran at 5 a.m., 3 p.m., and 8:30 p.m., sometimes pushed along by students and community members, most times by himself.

“I just tried to stay focused, and the best way was to think about the motto—that running is easy, but cancer is hard,” Meeker said. “Running in circles really isn’t that hard. This really isn’t a big deal. A few of the runs were pretty challenging, but I was never at the point where I felt I wasn’t going to make it.”

Meeker made it all right; remarkably with little soreness and admittedly some laps left in his tank following Saturday morning’s closing ceremony.

So what could he possibly do for an encore next year?

“People keep asking me that,” said the father of four. “I have no idea.”