By Shaun Chornobroff
When Marques Merriweather crossed the finish line of the 60-meter hurdles at the 2022 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Indoor Track Championships, his teammates immediately celebrated him becoming a conference champion.
When Merriweather and his Rider hurdles coach Brett Harvey, both underwhelmed by Merriweather’s time, gathered after the race, the two shared looks of bewilderment.
“I actually had a bad race, but it was still enough to win,” said Merriweather, who ran the event in 8.19 seconds to take first. “My coach was across the line and instead of being super excited, we were both confused, we were like ‘did I just win with that time?’”
Indeed he did. And after a moment of being convoluted by confusion, the coach and hurdler duo snapped back into reality.
“[Harvey] goes ‘I think I’m supposed to be happy right now, you won’” Merriweather recalls with a big laugh.
“Yeah, I think I’m supposed to be happy too,” he replied.
After the unique interaction, each joined in the jubilation of Merriweather’s success. A year later, both Merriweather and Harvey couldn’t help but crack a smile when reminiscing the brief moment they were too fixated with numbers to celebrate a conference title.
“It took us both a few minutes to be like, ‘This is dumb, winning championships is special and we need to celebrate this,’” Harvey said. “If it’s not the time [we wanted], it’s not the time, but it’s still a really special accomplishment.”
That unique moment, the tinge of dissatisfaction Merriweather felt despite victory, embodies what took him from a Rider freshman walk-on just hoping to continue the sport he loved, to a senior leader, as well as an indoor and outdoor MAAC champion in the 60-meter hurdles.
‘I’m not the fastest guy on the track’
Merriweather’s track journey started in sixth grade when he attempted to be a sprinter on the middle school team in his hometown of Jackson, New Jersey. However, it wasn’t long until he was hit with a stark reality.
He just wasn’t very fast.
Merriweather’s speed did not compare to the others at Goetz Middle School and when attempting to be a sprinter, he was told he was not going to be able to make the team. However, the middle school squad was in need of hurdlers and high jumpers, and Merriweather wanted to be on the team.
He quite literally jumped at the opportunity. It wasn’t long until Merriweather found nirvana in the hurdles and high jumps, the two events he still does a decade later, now as a decorated Bronc.
It was during the days of Goetz Middle School that Merriweather set the foundation for the hurdler he’d become. At a middle school that didn’t have its own track or hurdle equipment, the coaches were creative, deciding to draw a line with chalk on a brick wall and the hurdlers were instructed to kick above the line.
“We would go out there and kick the wall for like 30 minutes-plus all the time, every day,” Merriweather recalled. “I think that drilled the mechanics into it. So where I lack now, even to this day, I’m not the fastest on the track and I don’t think I ever will be, but the technique and mechanics that I’ve had over the years just keeps improving and that’s where I’m able to shine.”
But it wasn’t until a knee injury sidelined him for his junior season at Jackson Memorial High School that Merriweather experienced a change in his mentality.
“That junior year, I’d sit there and watch the track meets, and I’m not going to practice, I’d just sit at home and for me, it felt like I had no purpose,” Merriweather said. “So when I got back, it wasn’t time to play games. I’d just go out there and put my best foot forward and enjoy the thing that I’d like to do, and hope to continue doing it in college.”
In his senior season of high school, Merriweather blossomed, becoming one of the top performers in Ocean County in his events. However, he still didn’t have a home for the next four years. Thanks to Rider’s instant decision day, he found a home he was not expecting.
Once he got accepted, he reached out to Harvey for the first time, hoping to become a member of the team. After waiting a couple of weeks for a decision, Merriweather was informed there was a spot for him on a Division I track team.
“I was just like ‘Wow, I just walked onto a D1 team. It’s kind of scary and like exciting at the same time that I get to continue doing track in college,” Merriweather said.
Before the spring season of his freshman year could begin, COVID-19 ran rampant and spring sports around the country were canceled. For Merriweather, this was heartbreaking news.
With classes completely online and Merriweather living a drivable distance from the school, he was commuting to practice in the fall of 2020. When it was announced there was going to be no winter season, being stuck amid the financial crises of the pandemic and unable to compete, Merriweather had to make the decision to sacrifice his sophomore season, focusing on work and academics.
During this time, Merriweather kept in shape, hurdling and high jumping back at his old high school, when Harvey reached out and asked him to return to the team.
After a brief conversation, Merriweather decided to sacrifice the health of his truck and make the nearly 40-minute commute to practice, much to Harvey’s relief.
“I think I was just reflecting on one day, and I was like, ‘man, it’d be such a shame to see this kid have done all this work and all these things to be here, you know, not be able to get kind of the reward,’” Harvey said. “I just called him and we kind of talked our way through it and figured out a way to make it work.”
‘There’s no way I’m not running’
After getting his first taste of conference championship glory at last year’s indoor championships, Merriweather has a new goal for this year’s festivities: first in both the hurdles and the high jump, a unique feat not many athlete’s can accomplish.
His goals for the Feb. 18 and 19 championships are partly derailed by a tendon injury, forcing him to sit out of the high jump portion of the events. In regards to participating in the hurdles, Merriweather flashed an eager smile and said, “there’s no way I’m not running.”
The introduction of Mount St. Mary’s to the MAAC brings the arrival of Richard Gilchrist along with it, who has a school record and personal best of 7.89 seconds, a number superior to Merriweather in the event he has held a monopoly on within the conference.
After being able to cruise through the conference last winter and spring, competition is welcome for the athlete-coach duo of Merriweather and Harvey.
“I think he’s excited about the challenge of facing somebody that will force him to get to another level in order to beat him,” Harvey said. “But I think 100%, he and I both think we can get him to a place where he can beat [Gilchrist], that’s our expectation.”
Fighting through an injury and burgeoning with anticipation to maintain his hurdle supremacy, Merriweather enters the upcoming championships an even more determined version of the athlete his teammates are already familiar with.
“The doors are wide open, it’s up to me if I get through them or not,” Merriweather said. “I’ve been all gas, no brakes, trying to improve everything. When it comes to my sleep, when it comes to my diet, everything, just trying to be the best and perform the best I can.”