The stadium is shaking. Cheers and shouts thunder from the stands, where some 90,000 fans buzz with anticipation for the day’s events. Instructions boom over the loudspeaker, and Markeith Price ’08 steps into his position on the track. He breathes deeply and soaks in the sounds of his very first Paralympic Games.
At three years old, Markeith was diagnosed with a visual impairment called optic atrophy. For Markeith, the condition causes different visual acuities in each eye. He compares the sight in his left to seeing the world as if it is a Picasso painting—abstract with very little definition of detail. His right eye offers a bit more vision at 20/450. He is able to make out details, such as facial features, from four or five feet away but any further and the subject blurs to an indistinguishable figure.
Growing up, Markeith never felt restricted by his limited vision. His dad made sure of that. “My dad never told me I couldn’t do something,” Markeith explains. “He just had faith in God and said, ‘We’re still going to treat him like a normal kid—not try to make him different—while giving him the resources he needs.’ Sports were something that helped my dad with confidence as a kid. So, I started playing tee ball.”
Then, when Markeith was nine years old, he watched his cousin race in a track meet. “Everyone wants to be like their older cousins,” he shrugs. “I saw him running, and I wanted to run.” He signed up for an AAU track program at 10 years old and started running for Coach Vincent Fuller Sr., who also coached varsity track and field at Mount Saint Joseph. Markeith would continue to run for Coach Fuller as a student at The Mount; and, it was during those four years that he fully realized his potential as an athlete.
“Before I got to Saint Joe, I told my dad I wanted to be an Olympian, and one day he showed me the Paralympics,” Markeith says. “When I was at Mount Saint Joe, I was fast enough to go to the Nationals for Paralympics; that’s when I realized that if I worked really hard and dedicated myself to this, I could become a Paralympic athlete.”
In 2008, just after graduating from The Mount, Markeith tried for the Paralympic Games in Bejing. When he just barely missed the cut, he went off to college with his sights set on 2012. He kept training. In 2011, he competed in the World Championships in New Zealand and the Pan American Games in Guadalajara. When the Paralympic Trials rolled around the next year, he was ready. He earned a spot on the team and set off to compete in London.
“Nothing can explain the feeling,” Markeith shares. “It’s an honor just to be there. Everyone who competes in the Paralympics or the Olympics are already the best, so we’re trying to beat the best. As Paralympians, we are not only showcasing our talent but also that we didn’t allow our disabilities to stop us. We persevered through those challenges and are pushing those limits.”
Markeith spent the next four years after London living at the Olympic Training Center in San Diego, now called the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center. He was preparing for the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janiero and a new goal: the podium.
“I just wanted to go out there and execute,” Markeith explains. “I really wanted to medal. But at the end of the day, when I came in fifth, I told myself that I had competed my very best and gave it all I had. I am a goal-oriented person. But it’s not just about meeting the goal; it’s about putting effort into meeting the goal. It’s about going out there and trying.”
It is this sense of self-motivation that Markeith wants to instill in young athletes with disabilities. He established the I C You Foundation to support and provide resources for the visually impaired and blind. The foundation awards two scholarships each year through the United States Association for Blind Athletes, which also helped Markeith throughout his journey.
“The scholarship is called the Valor Achievement Award because a lot of times when you are blind or visually impaired you are literally stepping out into the unknown, and I think that is bravery,” says Markeith.
Markeith has faced the unknown many times in his own life. Most recently, he, along with the rest of the world, waited anxiously to hear how the International Olympic and Paralympic Committees would respond to the COVID-19 crisis and the call to restrict large gatherings to help prevent the spread of the virus. The verdict: postpone the Games an entire year. Originally scheduled for August 25 through September 6, 2020, the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics will now take place August 24 through September 5, 2021.
“The Games have been changed, but that’s okay because the mission and goal remain the same,” Markeith says. “My mindset has had to shift a little because of this pandemic affecting the world. It’s about staying healthy and keeping everyone around you safe. So, my training has changed with limited resources, but the grind remains the same.”
Markeith’s road to the podium may be a little further than he planned, but he will keep running.This article is from the Spring 2020 issue of The Mount magazine.