Patrick Meek will participate in his first Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, beginning Feb. 7. Photo courtesy of U.S. Speedskating
Patrick Meek will participate in his first Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, beginning Feb. 7. Photo courtesy of U.S. Speedskating

When Patrick Meek set out from Missouri to Utah in his little 1998 green Saturn after graduating high school, he wasn't simply pursuing his dreams of becoming a world class speed skater - he was fulfilling his destiny.

It's hard to imagine Meek, whose father and grandfather were also excellent speed skaters, not being drawn to the sport that has meant so much to his family.

The love of the sport started at an early age for the 28-year-old.

"Ever since I first put on speed skates at two years old, pretty much my whole dream has been to represent the United States at the Olympics," he said. "My dad was a coach back in those days for a local club team [in the Chicago area]. He was gone all day, but at night he'd go to practice. My mom, having a two-year-old in the house all day, at 5 o'clock, was sick of me. So she'd be like, 'Just take him. Take him to practice or something.'"

Those practices with his father, Joseph Meeks, Jr., were where young Patrick honed the skills that would one day lead to a spot on the U.S. national team.

"My dad got one of those 10-gallon buckets at the ice rink, turned it over and, as he was coaching, I would just push it around and follow him around," Meek said. "That's how I learned to skate - just following my dad around. I didn't have an instructor, I didn't have a coach - my dad was my coach up until I was 18 years old."

Meek knows what you're thinking. With a father and grandfather who both loved speed skating, it might look like he was forced into the sport. But, he insists, that wasn't the case at all.

"Honestly, it was just something I developed my own love for," he said. "This could have easily been a sport that was forced on me, but there were several times after a competition didn't go my way or something that my dad sat me down and said, 'Do you want to keep skating? Do you perhaps want to play soccer or something?' And, every single time, I told him, 'No, I want to skate.'"

But, even though soccer and some other sports besides speedskating were always available as options to Meek, there were some places where his father drew the line.

"My dad always had a phrase that hockey and figure skating were a waste of good ice," Meek laughed. "So he never let me play hockey or figure skate or anything like that. It was always speedskating. That's what we did."

Now, Meek's lifelong goal has been accomplished - he's set to represent the United States at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

He said he couldn't have done it without the support of his friends and family, notably his father and grandfather.

"It's a really, really cool thing to be able to call them and bounce ideas off of them," he said. "My dad definitely makes it known that he's not my coach anymore - he wants to be my dad first. He's more than willing to listen, but he's not going to be one who steps on my coach's toes right now. He's the first person I always call."

And his grandfather is the optimist that gets Meek through some of his toughest times.

"He's my biggest cheerleader," Meek said of Joseph Meeks, Sr. "There have been World Cups where I call him up and say, 'That was a really, really terrible race,' and he'll say, 'No, no - that was awesome. I see what you're trying to do and you're only going to get better.' He's been my greatest cheerleader my entire career and that's pretty awesome."

Before securing his spot on the U.S. Olympic Team at the Olympic qualifiers in Salt Lake City in early January, Meek spoke of what it would mean for him to don the red, white and blue in Sochi.

"For me to just be named to the team would be the culmination of 26 years of hard work and determination," he said. "I think it would be also a validation for my family and friends who have sacrificed an astounding amount of time and energy and money to help me pursue my dreams."

Yet, even though he'll be heading to Sochi next month, he's not going to settle for just making an appearance at the Olympics, where he'll skate the 5,000-meter race - he wants to show the world that he's one of the best speed skaters in the world.

"Going to the Olympics is not just the goal," he said. "It's going to the Olympics and having some results there, too. The job's not done. It's only just started."

Every week until the start of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, The Park Record will profile an Olympic hopeful with ties to the Park City area. Check back next week for a story about speed skater Jessica Smith.