The Running Samaritan

July 11th, 2012 by Andrea Bennett

A high-school track star loses the title, but wins hearts.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

When Meghan Vogel, a junior runner for Ohio’s West Liberty-Salem High School, won the 1600-meter title at the Division III girls state meet in Columbus, the crowd was electric. After all, she’d broken away from the rest of the pack in the final 300 meters to claim victory and a personal record time of 4:58.31, resulting in the first girls state track title for her school in nearly 30 years and the second time she’d broken her own school record.

But the crowd’s applause was nothing like the standing ovation she got when she came in last in the 3200-meter run. After all, Vogel wasn’t running alone. She was carrying a fallen competitor, Arden McMath. In an ESPN article about the display of sportsmanship that may have cost Vogel a title but certainly garnered her national attention, Vogel indicated she didn’t know what the fuss was about. “Any girl on the track would have done the same for me,” she said.

With about 20 meters to go in the race, McMath collapsed with cramps in front of Vogel, who stopped to carry her across the finish line. Vogel made sure to keep McMath ahead of her, so when the pair crossed the finish line McMath was given 14th place and Vogel 15th place, despite – notes CBS Sports site – official rules stating a runner should be automatically disqualified for aiding another runner.

The Springfield News-Sun reported that the crowd “came to its feet, with the roar growing harder with each step.” Vogel told the paper that helping McMath across the finish line was more satisfying than winning the state championship.

Vogel’s mother, Ann Vogel, told ESPN that she was across the track and couldn’t see her daughter when she stopped, but a coaching friend told her to look up at the screen. She turned to the video board and saw her daughter supporting another runner on her shoulder. “I ran around (the perimeter of the track) as fast as I could, she said. “It wasn’t easy to get around with all of the people standing there but I was hearing the crowd and I could see tears running down people’s faces.”

You can see a video of the race here.

Vogel is still a bit surprised that what she considered to be a basic act of personal responsibility has been heralded as heroic. "It's strange to have people telling me that this was such a powerful act of kindness and using words like 'humanity.' It's weird. 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."

But as her burgeoning fan club, stream of Facebook friend requests and multiple invites to speak on morning talk shows attest, sometimes it’s these small acts of personal responsibility that resonate most powerfully. And as further proof, Vogel’s deed was just named the “Responsible Sports Moment of the Month” by Liberty Mutual Insurance and the Positive Coaching Alliance. To learn more, visit the Responsible Sports website.