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Ten years before Merritt’s ill-fated 7-Eleven visit, Antwan plunged from the window of an eighth-floor dormitory at Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., and later died. Just 18, Antwan wrote music, gave his little brother $10 for each home run he hit and arranged races between Merritt and older friends in Portsmouth streets. Antwan wanted to be an architect.

“He never got a chance,” Merritt said, “to even start a dream.”

The circumstances of Antwan’s death remain clouded. Five men were charged, and later acquitted by a jury, of involuntary manslaughter. Two were convicted of simple assault and sentenced to 10 days in jail.

Prosecutors alleged Antwan jumped from the window to escape the five men who came to his room to continue a dispute. An altercation on a basketball court started the problem, Merritt believed. He wonders if Antwan was thrown from the window.

“You’re standing in this room with all these people between you and the door,” Wake County prosecutor Howard Cummings told the jury during the 2000 trial of three of the men, according to the Associated Press. “You’ve already been beaten senseless. What is your only alternative but to get out? What would you expect a teenager to do?”

Justice? Far from it, Merritt thought.

All he could do was move forward.

The blue pills landed Merritt on Norfolk State University’s lonely track.

Not knowing when, or if, he could compete again, Merritt enrolled in the university’s business management program. At a football combine in Virginia Beach, he sprinted 40 yards in 4.19 seconds and thought about trying for the NFL as a wide receiver. He thought about playing professional baseball, the sport he adored as a child when stolen bases came easier than his smile. But, mostly, Merritt trained.

Two hours in the morning. Another hour in the afternoon. Six, sometimes seven days each week. Dwayne Miller was there. The coach who didn’t think Merritt was anything special when he first saw him run in 11th grade had never faced a challenge like this: preparing a runner for the unknown. Perspectives on track and life changed. Everything felt tenuous. Uncertainty fueled the workouts’ intensity.

Extra time in the weight room. More abdominal work. A nap. Stretching. Make pasta to last for a couple of days. Sleep. Then live the same day again. There wasn’t money for much else. Friends chipped in to help Merritt pay bills.

Merritt felt locked down, sick of the same workouts on the same track. Many nights, Merritt wondered what the point was as he eyed his shrinking bank account.

The first bit of good news came in October 2010. The North American Court of Arbitration for Sport panel noted while Merritt’s “negligence was on the high end” for not reading the ExtenZe label, the situation was “truly exceptional.” It reduced Merritt’s suspension from 24 to 21 months, effective the date of his first positive test, leaving him free July 27, 2011. The panel also urged Merritt be allowed to compete in the Olympics, since the ban would punish him beyond what was provided in the World Anti-Doping Association’s code.

“Any argument to the contrary,” the panel said, “is mere skulduggery.”

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