Sabre specialist Billy Meckling changed the lives of many people in his time at Notre Dame.

I Am Strong, If You Are Strong: A Tribute to Billy Meckling

May 29, 2015

“I am strong, if you are strong.”

Repeat that phrase and ruminate on what it means.

The first part–“I am strong”–is a declarative statement. It can pertain to any type of strength–physical, mental or emotional–yet it pertains only to an individual.

The second part of the saying–“if you are strong”–is where the symbolism lies. The person in the first part needs others to be strong, because that personal strength actually is drawn from those other individuals.

So this phrase, this simple mantra, is more of a cause-and-effect statement. “If you are strong, I am strong” is how it should really be said.  

The University of Notre Dame fencing team adopted this mantra for the 2014-15 season, and no one embodied its meaning more so than William “Billy” Meckling. A senior from Denver, Colorado, Meckling served as a mentor to a young Irish sabre squad that helped clinch the 2015 Atlantic Coast Conference team title for Notre Dame.

“Billy was a talented fencer and a determined worker,” said Notre Dame head coach Gia Kvaratskhelia. “More importantly he was a great friend to all members of our program. He was a true Notre Dame man, and his kindness and warmth impacted each and every one of us. That is what makes his loss all the more difficult.”

Meckling passed away May 16–one day before he was set to graduate from the University–after falling from a roof slick from midnight rains. He left behind many still in shock over the nature of his death. All those entities–family, friends, classmates, teammates, coaches–came together two days later to remember who Billy was and to be strong for each other in a time of deep sorrow. 

“Billy was simply an all-around amazing person. He helped show everyone what it means to be a Notre Dame student-athlete,” said Jonah Shainberg, a fellow member of the Irish men’s sabre team.  

Who exactly was Meckling? A mechanical engineering major, he lived in Knott Hall and was known for his easygoing personality. He had an uncanny ability to break down difficult problems into simple solutions. He was admired and counted as a friend by many of the people with whom he crossed paths over his four years in South Bend.

“Billy never let life bother him,” said Shainberg. “He showed up at practice every day ready to work his hardest and contribute whatever he could to the team–and always with a smile on his face that was overly contagious. Whether it was meeting me early in the day so I had a lifting buddy, or staying late at practice to give me one last tough bout before a tournament, or meeting me at dinner so I wouldn’t have to eat alone, Billy was always looking out for me and the rest of the team.

“As a freshman, I was lucky to have someone like Billy to help ease the difficult transition to college. He welcomed me to the team on Day One and never stopped being not only a great teammate, but also a close friend. Billy’s ever-positive attitude, his drive and overwhelming friendliness will impact me for the rest of my life.” 

According to his father, Meckling always had a keen interest in engineering and knew it could help make a deep, immediate impact on the lives of many–and that was what motivated him to declare engineering as his major.

“I got to know Billy best through his visits during office hours,” said associate professor Jim Schmiedeler. “He always came well prepared. He had very specific questions to ask. He always thanked me very politely and went to finish his work.

“This is the kind of student you appreciate as a faculty member. Billy never simply asked for solutions. Instead he asked questions that helped him understand how to do the work himself. He was a classic Notre Dame student in this regard, as fully engaged in his coursework as he was in his fencing.” 

Professor Meng Wang said that, in their computational fluid dynamics class, Billy “was a committed student who worked hard. The workload for this course is nearly twice that of an average class in terms of time spent outside class, and it is not a required course, yet Billy took it and performed well. If he was stuck on a homework problem, he would come to my office for a discussion. That demonstrated to me that he was more interested in completing the work properly.”

Meckling’s deep sense of humility perhaps stood out most. Never one to seek the spotlight, he tried out for the Notre Dame fencing team only at the insistence of his hometown fencing club coach. Meckling didn’t think he was a strong enough fencer to make the team. But once he made the Irish roster as a walk-on, his impact was immediate. He produced a 40-4 record in 2012–for the second-best individual record on the sabre team during the regular season. Meckling earned a monogram in his first year with the team and went on to earn a second monogram in 2014. 

“I knew Billy for three years, but it didn’t take long to realize he was special,” said fellow walk-on Nicole McKee, a junior member of the women’s foil squad in 2015. “He was the most warm-hearted person, with the most genuine, beautiful smile. He humbly welcomed others with open arms and accepted them for who they were, which is why so many felt comfortable around him. I appreciated his insight and often went to him for advice. I will miss being able to talk with him, but I also will miss how he greeted me every day for practice, with a surprise noogie.

“A bright and hopeful light went out in our world when Billy left us far too soon. He juggled fencing with school, yet he still managed to be there for others and put smiles on the faces of those with whom he was surrounded.”

Meckling earned honorable-mention all-Midwest Fencing Conference accolades in both the 2012 and 2013 seasons for his 11th-place finishes at the conference tournament. Despite never competing at an NCAA Championship, Meckling remained a valuable combatant for the Irish sabre squads throughout his career. He finished with a 93-21 career win-loss record and helped the men’s team (all weapons combined) etch a 26-6 record in 2015. 

“When you think of the success of Notre Dame fencing, you usually think of our Olympic-caliber athletes,” said Kvaratskhelia. “Yet, equally integral to our team success are the unsung names, the walk-ons who bring positive spirit, energy and camaraderie to practices and competitions and push their teammates and themselves to greater heights.

Billy Meckling was one of those teammates to us. He was an invaluable member of our sabre squad, someone who left a massive impact on all of us as a fencer and a human being.”

There can be many reasons that make someone “strong.” Overcoming adversity is a recurrent storyline in many a collegiate athlete’s four-year story. Meckling’s hard work and contributions over the last four years undoubtedly will serve as driving forces for returning members of the Irish fencing program.

He helped make the mantra “I am strong, if you are strong” an enduring theme for many.  

Rest in peace, Billy.

Know that you were loved by all and that you changed many a person’s life in your time at Notre Dame.

You will be missed.

 

— by Lizzie Mikes, Media Services Coordinator

 

To forever honor and celebrate the spirit in which Billy lived his life, the Meckling family recently created an endowed scholarship fund in Billy’s name. The Billy Meckling Scholarship Fund at Notre Dame honors the memory of their son and brother, a young adult of great promise who left this world all too soon. The scholarship will be awarded annually to a Notre Dame fencing and engineering student who best embodies the qualities Billy so gracefully lived. Friends, family, and loved ones may honor Billy by contributing to the Billy Meckling Scholarship Fund at the following link:  supporting.nd.edu/billy. Loved ones are also encouraged to leave a tribute or favorite memory in the text box at the bottom of the link. Contributions may also be made to the University of Notre Dame, Billy Meckling Scholarship Fund, 1100 Grace Hall, Notre Dame, IN 46556. For more information, please contact Stacy Koebel at  574-631-5546.