Thursday, June 7, 2012

....What He Said

Approximately twenty years ago or so, the always-quotable, often less-than-charming Charles Barkley famously (infamously in some circles) dropped the quote that has become his legacy, I'm not a role model, ... Just because I dunk a basketball doesn't mean I should raise your kids.

If recent events are any proof, it turns out that old Chuckles was right. While athletic competition can certainly shape the character of those who participate in it, gazing upward myopically towards those who earn a living doing it as if those folks are in fact celestial bodies appears to have been erroneous. We have engaged in much craning and gazing for nothing. At least if recent events from the home state of Warren G. Harding are nothing less than a microcosm of the world at large.

For those of you who have not seen the footage of Matt Woodrum, please stop reading this and go here. Matt is an eleven-year-old boy who is afflicted with - and by the looks of things on this piece of video kicking the ass of - cerebral palsy. He could have opted not to participate in this race on Field Day with his classmates but he opted in instead. It was after all the fourth race of the day in which he ran and was joined by only a small smattering of his classmates at the starting line.

And when it appeared as if he might not be able to finish what he had started, his teacher and his classmates did something remarkable for both its spontaneity and for its generosity. Afterwards the rather determined young fella stated that he had intended to complete the distance all along but that there were a couple of spots along the way where he felt like he might give up - a feeling that Yours truly has experienced firsthand during more than one race. Once his phalanx of supporters formed behind him, he had the positive reinforcement he needed to complete the task at hand. Amazing stuff. He inspired them at the same time that they were inspiring him.

And this past weekend in the Buckeye State, in the 1,600 meter final at the Division III girls State Championship, contested at Jesse Owens Stadium in Columbus, Meghan Vogel ran more than a stride or two in Matt Woodrum's footsteps. Earlier in the day, Meghan - who is an 11th grader at West Liberty-Salem High School - had captured the championship in the 1,600 meter event and had done so while running her personal best time. She had returned to the track for the 3,200 meter championship - an event that she was not favored to win - slightly more than an hour later. She ended up finishing in last place. But it is the way in which she finished that will have those who witnessed what she did speaking her name aloud long after the names of the youngsters who ended up on the medal stand will have been forgotten.

Rounding the final turn on the final lap of the event she looked up to see that only one of her fellow competitors was still on the track with her. The other runner turned out to be Arden McMath, a 10th grader from another high school. The two athletes were strangers to one another. At or about twenty meters from the finish line, McMath collapsed. Vogel could have passed by her without bothering to check on her. Vogel could have stopped momentarily to check on her and then once feeling assured that her opponent would be fine, she could have continued on past her to the finish. Vogel could have stopped, checked on her, awaited the arrival of medical personnel to assist her opponent and then - upon seeing that McMath was in the hands of professionals - continued on past her and to the finish of the race. She could have done any of those things and no one in the stands would have looked askance at her. She did none of those things.

Instead Meghan Vogel stopped to tend to Arden McMath. She helped her to her feet and then, with McMath's left arm draped over her right shoulder, Meghan helped her across the finish line. By this point in the narrative, you are thinking that Meghan Vogel is a fairly remarkable young woman. While such a conclusion certainly seems logical in light of the evidence presented, we have still not quite reached this story's "WOW" moment. Read on. It is straight ahead.

Meghan Vogel did not simply help Arden McMath cross the finish line in their race. She made certain that when the two runners reached the finish line, McMath crossed it before she did. McMath's finishing time - in 14th place - was 12:29.90. Vogel finished the race in 12:30.24 and in 15th place. As remarkable as what she did on the track was, it is Meghan Vogel's reaction to the world's reaction to what she did that is (to me anyway) the single most sensational part of this story:

"It's been crazy. I can't understand why everyone wants to talk to me, but I guess I'm getting used to it now," she said. "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."

In other words, without giving it a moment of deliberation she became a role model. Just like Matt Woodrum....

....and neither of them can dunk a basketball.

-AK

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