This story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Dec. 10 Interview issue. Subscribe today!
Meghan Vogel won a state title in the 1,600 meters at the Ohio Division III track championship in June. But it was a last-place finish in her next race that echoed far beyond the track. Vogel shares the story behind her unforgettable show of sportsmanship.
I GREW UP around runners and coaches, and deep down I always knew it was more important to be a good person than a good athlete.
As I came around the final curve of the 3,200 meters, I could tell that the runner ahead of me was struggling. My legs hadn't recovered from the 1,600, and I was simply jogging at that point. On the home straightaway, I saw Arden McMath [from Arlington, Ohio] fall.
My mom is a track coach, so I know the rules of the sport pretty well. I realized that if the official who was approaching Arden touched her, she would have been disqualified. I thought, She's either going to get up on her own, or I'm going to have to help her. Since she and I were in last and next-to-last place, our finishes wouldn't affect our teams' scores, so I made the decision to help her to her feet. Then I grabbed her left wrist and tucked my head under Arden's arm. Together we walked the last 30 meters. I vaguely remember pushing her across the finish line. She was in front of me, so I thought it was only right that she finish higher than I did.
I didn't officially meet Arden until later, in the medical tent. We appeared together on national TV a few days later. My Facebook page blew up. I had 700 new friend requests, most of them from people I didn't know. One of my friends said I was trending on Twitter, and I was like, "What?"
About a week after the state meet, my hometown of West Liberty held a parade for me. I didn't understand why anyone would hold a parade for me, but I agreed to do it. I rode in the back of a convertible. A lot of little kids had me sign their T-shirts. The girls on my mom's track teams were my heroes growing up, so it felt good to be able to give something back.
I also got a ton of mail. My favorite letter was from a man with Down syndrome who gave me a medal from the Special Olympics. People sent me money, which freaked me out, since as a high school athlete I can't accept it. I found out that if I endorsed the checks to someone else, it was okay. So I gave the money, about $700, to charity.
Since the race, Arden and I have kept in touch through Facebook.
I'm not sure why what I did resonated with so many people. The news has been pretty depressing lately, with the economy struggling and people looking for jobs. I think Arden's and my story made people smile. Some people said it restored their faith in humanity. I don't know if it did that. It was something I'd hope anybody in my shoes would do.
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