What compels a runner, struggling to finish her own race, to stop and help a competitor finish – even pushing that opponent ahead of herself causing them to finish first, and herself to finish dead last? Good question. It’s the one on the minds of all the spectators present last Saturday at Jesse Owens Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, as well as many a reporter trying to secure an interview with said runner after the race’s end. (You can see a more detailed account here: http://espn.go.com/high-school/track-and-xc/story/_/id/8010251/high-school-runner-carries-injured-foe-finish-line)
Many are calling it ‘sportsmanship’; some are calling it ‘compassion’. Others are labeling it ‘humanity’, even ‘heroic’. Clearly, any of these descriptions would be accurate. The runner herself, Meghan Vogel (of note, a junior in high school), doesn’t seem to know what all the fuss is about; she felt she was simply doing what anyone else would have done. But really, did she? Or rather, would anyone else have done the same? Personally, I don’t think that’s necessarily a given, which is what makes this act of selflessness so amazing.
Traits like those Miss Vogel exhibited are not always innate; often, they are learned. The fruit would have to fall close to the tree, as it were. While we do have the seeds of compassion and empathy inside us all (at least I believe we do), it is the way these seeds are nurtured that determine how we put these traits into practice as we transition from children, to adolescents, to adults. We are taught, often by example, how to treat others around us; whether to value humanity, when to lend a hand, how to practice simple decency. The fact that, at around sixteen years of age, while obviously being a serious sports competitor, this young woman would sacrifice her athletic goal with nary a second thought to help out a fellow runner, simply illustrates the examples she has clearly been following, likely, for most of her life. It’s not something she suddenly chose to do some random Saturday in June. And that she would do it without even batting an eye is what makes it so extraordinary to me.
As I looked at the photo at the end of the article I couldn’t help but think of my own daughter (currently six years of age); I thought of all the hopes and dreams I have for things she will accomplish in her own life. I have to say, I can imagine how proud Miss Vogel’s mother was of her on this day; and really, she should also be proud of herself, for helping to raise such an amazing young woman. Selflessness is not an easy trait to foster; but it is one that will take you farther than any other. And Miss Vogel has shown us, with this one act of kindness and compassion, that she’s already accomplished more than many have in a lifetime.