Doing The Right Thing

AJWs TaproomAnybody who knows me knows that I love it when stories from the world of distance running resonate with daily life. And, in particular, I find it compelling when such stories emerge from ordinary people doing extraordinary things. So, it is not surprising that I have been intrigued by the story that emerged out of Ohio earlier this week in which a high school track runner, competing in the State Championship Meet, stopped with about 25 meters to go to assist a fallen competitor across the finish line.

Never mind the rules, this action is, to me, truly inspiring. Here’s a high school distance runner, on the last lap of a grueling two-mile race, who, apparently, acting on instinct and simple human goodness, did the right thing.

When the story broke, I was initially surprised, then awed, and, finally, humbled. Having spent a good part of my adult life around youth sports in general, and track in particular, I have come to realize that there is a certain cutthroat aspect to it, especially at the State High School level, that runs counter to this particular story. I know nothing of the runners involved nor do I have a grasp of the circumstances that impelled this one young runner to do what she did. What I do know is that this apparent instinctual act to help a fellow human being in a time in need is something we can all learn from.

And, it is something, I think, that makes our sport different, and I would argue, better than most. Furthermore, in this time of great need for compassion in the world, it provides a simple lesson to us all.

You see, running is something humans do because we want to and we have to. For centuries, running has been something that has separated us from others, but also connected us to others. This basically solitary act can be at once communitarian and independent. It can take us far away and bring us closer together. But it is the environment of running, the place that we inhabit when we are engaged in the actual act, that I believe, transforms us and brings us back to a place where instinctual behavior, and perhaps, ultimately, basic human goodness, trumps all.

I, for one, like to think that the young runner who stopped to help her fallen competitor to the finish line in the Ohio State track meet didn’t do so because it was something she wanted to do or even something she had been trained to do but rather, she did what she did because it was simply what she had to do. It was something that was so essential to her being as a person and as a runner (and, I would imagine in this case, and in many others, the two are indistinguishable) that she simply did it because it had to be done.

As much as running makes us free, it also makes us responsible, respectful, honest, and clear.

I hope the next time I see someone in need my instincts kick in the same way they did on that sultry Ohio track last weekend. It’s the kind of thing that would make me a better person and may just be a small step toward making the world a better place.

Bottoms up!

AJW Taproom’s Beer of the Week
New Belgium Shift Pale LagerThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Nick Clark’s hometown of Fort Collins, CO. New Belgium Brewery’s Shift Pale Lager has recently been introduced across the country in tidy 16-ounce cans and I must say it’s a nice beer. 5% ABV and a nice touch of hops makes this beer eminently drinkable. That said, a four-pack on the River on a warm June evening is about all you’d need. :-)

PS. I would like to ask the readers of AJW’s Taproom to send in their nominations for the Beer of the Week for Western States Weekend. I have my pick all set for next Friday, but I’d like to go with a “Reader’s Choice Awards” type format for the Taproom Column that will immediately precede Western States on June 20th.

So, here’s the way it will work:

Send me your nominations for Western States Beer of the Week to: by next Wednesday, June 13th and I will collect the nominations for voting in next Friday’s column. The winning beer will be announced in the June 20th column and we’ll send some iRunFar swag to the winner.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • Have you ever seen a runner helping another competitor in need during a race?
  • When is it acceptable and when is it unacceptable to render unplanned aid to a fellow competitor?

There are 21 comments

  1. Nicole W

    Andy, thanks for the article. In response to your call for comments, although not quite the scenario you're looking for, Wendell Doman fits the bill for me. As the RD for Coastal Trail Runs in the Bay Area, and former co-head of PCTR, Wendell is stepping up to voluntarily RD the upcoming Skyline to the Sea race after PCTR abruptly announced it's closing shop. This after registering hundreds of paid runners for the event and with no mention of refunds. PCTR's situation has bothered me for awhile, and I've realized that one reason is because very few people involved, especially leaders in the running community, seemed to be "doing the right thing". However, on this note, with this race, Wendell is, and he's rendering aid to many many runners that seem to have little recourse for having essentially been defrauded their race fee. (PS: I'd love to read a wider discussion of this situation) –Nicole

    1. Bryon Powell

      To be honest, I'd prefer not to have a discussion of the wider Bay Area race management situation here. Admittedly, it widely affects the Bay Area trail running community and is sad on many levels, but discussion of the root "situation" would involve far too much conjecture and speculation of a very personal nature about the handful of individuals involved.

      In the mean time, thanks for sharing the positive example of Wendell supporting the upcoming Skyline to Sea race.

  2. Brennen

    I was on my honeymoon crewing/pacing at Western States the year Brian Morrison was DQ'd because Scott Jurek aided him at the finish line. Has Scott ever discussed what happened that day, his motivations? As you hit it here, AJW, was instinct kicking in and he had to?

  3. Leon

    I realize that truly competitive racing and "just" taking part in an ultra (or any running event for that matter) aren't necessarily one and the same, but I would struggle to think of a trail running event that I've taken part in where some example of a friend-helping-a-friend or stranger-helping-a-stranger (new friend?) hasn't been witness. Whether it's instinctual or conscious decision, I couldn't say, but I believe there are trail angels everywhere and the capacity within each of us to BE the angel when given the opportunity. Being at the front of the pack, racing competitively? I hate to say it, but I think the rules may differ "up there". Should they? Not sure.

    I've got a beer raised up high for you on this one, AJW! Saw this story earlier in the week myself and had to share it with all who would listen. It's an Olympic year and the dramatic story construction is surely well under way…it's nice to see a quieter story present itself without any conjuring.

  4. Brett

    Here is another good one:

    "Matt has Spastic Cerebral Palsy, but opted to run in Field Day at Colonial Hills Elementary School despite being given the option to sit it out and despite the incredible challenge of his disability."

    Watching how the other kids conduct themselves, I say there is hope for the future!

  5. pittbrownie

    Not that this would ever happen, but if I saw AJW on the ground close to the finish line, I would surge by him. Then I'd come back out and talk smack while he crawled towards the finish line.

    Good call on the Shift. I'll go local with the WS beer of the week and nominate the Auburn Export Lager from the Auburn Alehouse.

  6. michael

    During a 5k i noticed a deer moving across the field to my right. Then it veared towards the course and the guy in front of me. I started yelling "watch out!" The deer jumped the ditch and smack into him. I was having my best race ever, but how could not stop and help. This was the craziest thing i had seen. I continued on my way when rhe medics arived and finished. Spoke wirh the man at the finish, still shaken but alright.

  7. Lance

    I think it is good to point out that this is a good example of "doing the right thing", not an act of heroism. And part of the reason why it happens in running is because of the nature of the sport of running in the first place as you touched on.

    Look at this quote from the girl: " It's strange to have people telling me that this was such a powerful act of kindness and using words like 'humanity.' When I hear words like that I think of Harriet Tubman and saving people's lives. I don't consider myself a hero. I just did what I knew was right and what I was supposed to do.".

    The media like to spin this in terms of "Look, humanity is not doomed in the future", and that is a shame.

  8. Tony Mollica

    Wow! Thanks for posting this Brett!

    I am an Elementary Physical Education and Health teacher in SE Ohio. We have a special needs 6th grader who has always been taken care of by his class. When we are doing something that requires a partner somebody always volunteers. When we play a game such as Matball or Kickball the students won't get him out. When we did the obstacle course at school on our Field Day I allow multiple turns as time permits and this young man always had a partner willing to "race" him. I had a talk with the class when they were very young, but never had to repeat it. The kids have taken care of him since without me having to remind anyone. It is fantastic!

  9. Tony Mollica

    There were a couple of interesting things that happened in the Ohio race. It occurred during the 3200meter race. The girl who assisted won the 1600. Her legs were bothering her during the 3200 and she found herself running last, or she wouldn't have been behind the girl she helped and in a position to notice that the girl needed help. Also the assisting girl was careful to keep the girl she helped ahead of her, reasoning that the girl would have finished ahead of her without the struggles and deserved to finish ahead of her.

    Any potential employer that knew about this situation would have to say that is the type of person I would want working for my company! (Unless it's one of those businesses where you buy a company, lay everyone off, and sell off all the assets. She probably wouldn't be any good at that.)

  10. Matt Smith

    While I agree that helping others is a virtue that should be rewarded, it's important to take this in context: This was a race where the the fallen runner wasn't in physical danger, but had misjudged her pace/performance and collapsed from exhaustion.

    The girl who dragged her across the finish line was probably not acting completely out of selfless motivation, but rather knew that her actions would be seen as 'heroic' and that she would be lauded for her sportsman-like behavior. Most people have an innate need to be liked and that was probably just as much a motivation as helping the other runner.

    If she had performed CPR and sacrificed her own finish/win, this might be more of a human interest story. Most 'altruism' is really just 'enlightened self interest' where the actors both benefit from the situation: "Doing well by doing good."

    That's just my jaded take on the situation. :)

    1. bill


      I was running the Ohlone 50k in 2008 and at about 20 miles while myself and another gal were hiking a section we saw a runner, about 50 feet in front of us stand up out of the high grass and fall back an roll down hill.

      We ran up to him and caught him, stopped his roll, turned him over and he was blue in the face. The temps were approaching 100 degrees on that day. Our best guess that he was suffering form heat. He was unconsiocus but we poured water on him and shook him to stay awake. Eventually other runner's gathered around to keep him shaded from the sun. In time another runner came around who had a cell phone and were able to get a Stanford Medivac Helicopter who was in the area. The team found a place to land and took care of him. It was touch and go but after 24 or so hours in a coma the runner came out of it. ( and lived to run another 50k)

      We stayed with him and I finished the 50k in about 10 hours.

      It's just something you have to do at the time.

  11. Mike vooris

    AJW: thanks for a good and thought provoking article. I choose to see such acts of altruism not as instinctual. I'd it were instinct we would see this type of behavior more often. It would bethe norm and we would expect it to happen and not be surprised it. I would argue that as humans one if our great characteristics is to be able to overrule our instinct. This is what makes the actions of this girl compelling and beautiful. She overcame the impulses of selfishness.

  12. swampy

    I was trail sweeping at Hellgate 100 in 2009 when I came upon a severely hypothermic runner laying on the trail. He was not alone however, he was being spooned by a young lady who stopped and just instinctively did it. Coolest thing I have ever seen at a race.

  13. Jim

    Biggest lessons I took from "Born to Run", and a big part of why I found the book inspiring, were these:

    1) Becoming a better person – developing inner strength – makes you a stronger runner.

    2) The great runners run with joy and a sense of connection to something bigger than themselves.

    Not that you have to read any book to know these things. And like you, I love finding more examples of people doing the right thing.

Post Your Thoughts