METHUEN — No, she does not play basketball.
Bare foot, she’s 6-feet-4. In sneakers, 6-feet-5.
There, the basics are now out of the way. These are questions/comments she has heard far, far too many times over the years.
When you are that tall and a female, you just want to be like everyone else. Wise beyond her years, 17-year-old Methuen High senior Meghan Levesque has come to the realization she can never “fit in.”
So she doesn’t try. Which is good, because in addition to being more than a foot taller than the average American adult female (Wikipedia says that is 5-3.5), Levesque has beautiful flaming red hair, which dangles well below her shoulders.
Oh, and she has to monitor a potentially life-threatening condition, too. It’s called Marfan syndrome and it can afflict very tall people.
Bright, thoughtful, passionate, considerate, Meghan’s the daughter every parent would love to have. Just in an oversized package.
Volleyball has been a blessing.
“It’s been everything to me,” said the Methuen High tri-captain. “I’ve been able to find myself through the sport. I danced for 12 years. By the end, I was sick of it. Volleyball was so new and exciting. It’s been the best.”
“Tall Girl” is a fun concept for a movie, but it’s not always so fun when it’s your life.
“I’ve been so tall for so long. It’s just something I’ve dealt with,” said Levesque, who reached 6-feet as an 11-year-old, 6th grader. “It’s really a pain with strangers. They feel they have to comment on everything.”
Few teenagers have developed thicker skin than Levesque. But sometimes those around her are taken aback with the lack of sensitivity from others. Sometimes cruel, sometimes ignorant, but hurtful.
Methuen High volleyball coach Matt Twomey recalled an incident at McDonald’s a few years ago after a game.
He said, “Someone took a picture of her and put it on social media. It was despicable. I can only imagine to be that tall and that age.”
Of course, the irony is almost nobody can imagine what it’s like to be that tall at that age.
Tall.Life wrote, “Only 0.001% of women are (6-foot-4). Or 1 in every 151,661 women.”
Meghan said, “I just ignore it or give them a weird look. My friends will get more mad than I do. There are days: ‘Geez, I’m sick of it.’
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized I can’t change it. If I go out on Saturday errands I’ll probably get three comments and a bunch of stares.”
Twomey added, “When we walk into the gym, teams stop and stare. But she takes it in stride. You have no choice but to respect her. She’s one of the best right-side hitters in the league. I think it means a ton to her.”
YEARS OF STRUGGLE
At her size, Meghan always has to deal with “the basketball question.”
Because of the Marfan syndrome, she probably never was going to play. A hard collision could be fatal. Volleyball is another sport where height makes right.
Meghan now more than holds her own as a starter for a Ranger club fighting for a state tourney berth. But many, including Twomey, wondered if she’d ever get to this point.
He said, “You can’t coach heart and you can’t coach height. We had to keep her.”
And heart condition notwithstanding, Levesque also has heart. Bigtime. She’s needed it during the bumpy volleyball journey.
“For two years she struggled (at middle hitter),” said Twomey. “Last year we were intent to having her start.”
But she was still lacking in lateral movement and still having stamina issues often associated with Marfan syndrome. She was again playing limited minutes. Maybe this just wasn’t going to work.
Twomey noted, “It would be easy for her to quit, but she didn’t.”
Then over the summer, Twomey noticed something at a clinic. She was playing a different position, right-side hitter, and was flourishing.
“She crushed a ball,” he said, the excitement evident in his voice. “As soon as I saw that, I knew she’d be a right-side hitter and I’d go with her the entire season.”
He has and hasn’t regretted it.
In Wednesday’s thrilling comeback upset over a then 10-3 North Andover squad, Levesque may have been the player of the game with 15 kills and 6 blocks in a fine all-around performance.
Twomey said, “I pulled her aside and said, ‘You aren’t that awkward girl anymore. She never gave up. She’s a great kid with a great sense of humor and has worked so hard. I’m so proud of her. It’s great to see.”
Levesque said, “This year has been amazing. I’m so proud of myself. My parents said, ‘Who knew she could do that?’ It’s awesome to see how far I’ve come.”
The height never totally defined her. She’s worked hard to make sure of that.
“I just had to accept who I was,” she said.
Twomey said, “I’m so proud of her as a dad, teacher and coach.”
She’s a top student, ranked 22nd in a class of about 450 students, and is applying to Holy Cross, Providence and Boston College. Her goal is to become a physician’s assistant.
The prom is fast approaching and some classmate will be awfully lucky if she says yes.
First, there is the difficult process of getting prom clothes.
She said, “Clothes are a big issue. Prom I’ll really struggle with shoes.”
She happily notes she’s discovered some stores online which cater to very tall women.
Some tall women throw caution to the wind and wear heels. And you, Meghan?
“I won’t be wearing heels. I don’t love towering over everyone.”
MARFAN IN FAMILY
Marfan syndrome is defined as: “a genetic disorder of the connective tissue. People with Marfan tend to be tall and thin, with long arms, legs, fingers and toes. They also typically have flexible joints and scoliosis.”
Several top athletes have died from it. Historians believe President Abraham Lincoln may have had it.
It runs in the Levesque family including with Meghan.
Meghan’s mother, Jennifer, who is 5-foot-11, nearly died after giving birth to their younger child. James is a perfectly healthy 6-foot, 8th grader at the Marsh School.
Meghan said, “Ten days after my brother was born she had an aortic dissection. She was airlifted to Mass. General.”
Almost 80 percent of people with aortic dissections die but Jennifer was fortunate.
Jennifer’s 6-foot-5 father and 6-foot-7 brother also have Marfan syndrome.
Due to Marfan, Meghan has to wear prescription glasses and can’t have contact lenses. She had to wear a back brace at night in 7th and 8th grade. She had surgery on both hips when she was 9.
“I go to a cardiologist ever 1.5-2 years,” said Meghan. “I have to keep an eye on it. I’m not allowed to play contact sports. It doesn’t worry me now. But can I have kids? It definitely makes me worry about the future.”
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