During the second heat of the women’s 5,000 meter run in Rio on Tuesday, the real action wasn’t at the finish line; it was farther back. With about 3,200 meters complete, American runner Abbey D’Agostino collided with New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblin, causing both women to fall to the track. While Hamblin was largely unharmed, D’Agostino was clearly in pain. But rather than quit, D’Agostino helped Hamblin up and urged her to finish the race, cheering her on from behind.
That’s “Competing with Character.” It’s something we at Boys Town know a lot about, because it’s a philosophy we instill in all of our student-athletes, from their first practice to their last competition. In fact, last September, in another 5k race about 5,500 miles farther north than Tuesday’s Olympic event, our Girls’ Cross Country team demonstrated their own brand of Competing with Character.
Right after a meet in Bennington, Nebraska, our girls were getting ready to attend the medal ceremony, at which several expected to receive medals. As they were gathering to go, however, somebody noticed that a girl from Raymond Central High School was still out on the course with about 1,800 meters left to go. Rather than leave her to her lonely run, the Boys Town Girls spontaneously decided as a team to line the course and cheer her on. As the Raymond Central runner passed each Boys Town girl, that girl in turn joined her and ran with her toward the finish line. By the time the Raymond Central runner finished, the entire Boys Town Girls Cross Country team was running alongside her.
Though the team ended up missing part of the medal ceremony, none would have done it any other way. The joy they felt from cheering on a fellow competitor was greater and longer-lasting than the thrill of receiving a medal.
And D’Agostino and Hamblin? Though they finished last and second-to-last in the preliminary race, respectively, because they were tripped, they are still winners. I know I’ll be cheering them on going forward. Will you?