On June 2, 2012, Meghan Vogel stood atop the winners' podium with a gold medal around her neck. She was the newly-crowned state champion in the 1,600-meters at the Division III state track and field meet at Ohio State University's Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
The West Liberty-Salem High School junior reportedly entered as an underdog, but she won handily with a time of 4.58.31, her first-ever finish under five minutes, and a full ten seconds better than she had ever run the event before.
Within a few days, several videos of the newly crowned state champion running at the state meet had gone viral, with more than 600,000 views on YouTube.
Her gold medal triumph in the 1,600 meters, however, had nothing to do with the worldwide attention. The films had a more meaningful story to tell. A few minutes after the 1,600-meter run, Meghan entered the grueling 3,200-meter final against fourteen other girls. Just 20 feet from the finish line after nearly two miles, she was in last place but had a chance to pass Arlington High School sophomore Arden McMath, who had collapsed in the heat from severe cramps and was lying prone on the track.
Rather than sprint past her fallen opponent to avoid the last-place finish, Meghan stopped to help Arden to her feet, linked arms and supported her across the finish line. On the spur of the moment, placement also mattered to Meghan, who made sure that Arden remained a split-second ahead of her. "She was in front of me the whole race," Megan explained later, "so she deserved to finish in front of me no matter what it took."
According to Ohio High School Athletic Association rules, both runners should have been disqualified because one runner had aided the other. The fans' standing ovation for Meghan's selfless act, however, led meet officials to overlook the violation and credit both runners with their posted times. That was the day's 3,200-meter ledger for Meghan Vogel -- last place on the track; first place in character and sportsmanship.
Heroism and modesty
Meghan's self-effacing take on her day at the state competition? "I don't consider myself a hero. I just did what I knew was right and what I was supposed to do. . . . [Arden] worked too hard to get to the state meet, and she deserved to finish. . . . I knew if I was on that track, anybody would do the same for me."
Heroism and an abiding sense of modesty can go hand in hand. But Meghan Vogel became an instant YouTube hit precisely because everyone would not have shared her conception of what was right, and precisely because everyone would not have done the same as she did.
As youth sports have grown coarser in the past generation, MomsTEAM and other national voices have encouraged Americans to seek vibrant competition marked by a greater sense of sportsmanship and mutual respect among competitors and their families. We may not be there yet, but the example set by young athletes such as Meghan Vogel can help support the rest of us across the finish line.
Sources: Dave Long, WLS State Champ Lends a Helping Hand, Springfield (Ohio) News-Sun, June 5, 2012; David Jablonski, Runner Inspires Other With Act of Kindness, Dayton (Ohio) Daily News, June 5, 2012; Kristen Jordan Shamus, Teen's Selfless Act Serves as a Lesson for All Kids, Detroit Free Press, June 10, 2012.
Posted July 1, 2012