Meghan Vogel doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about.
Vogel, a junior runner for West Liberty-Salem High School (West Liberty, Ohio), won the 1,600-meter title Saturday
at the Division III girls state meet at Jesse Owens Stadium in Columbus. But it’s what she did in her next race that was most remarkable.
With about 20 meters to go in the 3,200, Arden McMath, a sophomore from Arlington High School, collapsed in front of Vogel. Rather than run by her, Vogel helped McMath to her feet and carried her across the finish line, making sure to keep McMath ahead of her.
“Any girl on the track would have done the same for me,” Vogel said Monday.
But Vogel’s gesture resonated with the thousands of spectators who witnessed it, as well as with the thousands more who have read about the story or seen video of the race’s finish.
By the time Vogel arrived home Saturday night, word of her sportsmanship was spreading. She had 30 new friend requests on Facebook within a few hours. Ohio media pounced on the story and lauded Vogel’s selfless act.
Monday was supposed to be a “pajamas day” at the Vogel home in West Liberty, a day to relax after last week’s conclusion of the school year and the busy weekend at the state championships. Instead. it was spent reliving the race.
“The phone’s been ringing a lot,” said Ann Vogel, Meghan’s mother and coach.
It wasn’t Meghan’s first act of sportmanship on the track.
A week earlier, at the state qualifying meet, West Liberty-Salem was running fifth in the 4×800 relay when Vogel took the baton for the anchor leg. She summoned a big effort and passed two other runners, clinching a berth in the state championships for her team.
Vogel was so wiped out after crossing the finish line that she collapsed, and her excited teammates rushed to her side to help her back to her feet. But then Vogel saw one of the girls she had passed, a freshman who also had fallen.
Vogel went to the other runner and offered a hand up and a few words of encouragement.
“She was in fourth (one spot from qualifying for state) and felt awful,” Vogel said.
At the state championships, Vogel had a difficult 1,600/3,200 double. She won the 1,600 in a personal-best 4 minutes, 58.31 seconds, stepped onto the podium for photos and medals, talked to the local media, and went to visit with her family.
That left her with about an hour to get ready for the 3,200, in which she was seeded seventh.
Three laps into the eight-lap race, Vogel was falling off the pace. Her mother watched from the backstretch and could tell that her daughter didn’t have the energy to contend for another title.
“By that time it was a matter of just finishing (the race),” Ann Vogel said. “I kind of joked with her about being in last place because she’s never been last. And every lap she looked at me and smiled.”
Vogel rounded the final turn for home and could see that the only other runner who hadn’t finished yet was faltering. And then McMath, a runner Vogel had never met before, fell to the track.
Vogel never had a moment of doubt about what to do next.
“I remember moving to her position,” she said. “(McMath) was doing the best she could to keep her body upright. There was a lot of shake in her legs, which is totally understandable.”
The crowd cheered when Vogel stopped and the roar grew louder as she and McMath moved closer to the finish line. Vogel purposely steered McMath across the finish line ahead of her.
“We’re a little bit of a minority being distance runners,” Vogel said. “I think we all have an instant connection.”
A race that had become pointless in the grand scheme of the day for Vogel quickly took on a new meaning.
“I think fate may have put me (in last place) for a reason,” Vogel said.
Ann Vogel was across the track and couldn’t see her daughter when she stopped. But a coaching friend told Ann Vogel, “Ann, 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,” Ann Vogel 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.”
McMath was quickly scooped up by medical staff. By rule, a runner in track or cross country is automatically disqualified for aiding another runner, but meet officials chose to leave McMath and Vogel in the results rather than take action.
McMath was given 14th place in 12:29.90, and Vogel 15th in 12:30.24.
A half-hour after the race was over, Vogel grabbed her mother’s shoulder and said she felt dizzy and a little nauseated. Ann Vogel found a trainer and together they moved Meghan to a tent.
Vogel sat down with a cup of Gatorade on a cot that was positioned next to McMath, who was lying down and still recovering from dehydration and heat exhaustion.
“She was still pretty sick at that point,” Meghan Vogel said of McMath. “Her coach turned to me and said, ‘Thank you.’ ”
The two girls will meet again, formally this time, Tuesday morning for an interview with the TV show “Fox And Friends.”
The response to her simple gesture has taken Vogel by surprise.
“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.”