In any competition, some people will do anything to win. But for Robert Gomez of Windham, Maine, sportsmanship will always be more important.
During a 10K race in Cape Elizabeth, Maine over the weekend, Gomez had a chance to seize first place when the race’s leader, Jesse Orach, suffered heat stroke and collapsed with the finish line in his sites. Instead, Gomez helped to carry Orach across the finish line.
Gomez says that he managed to stay even with Orach during the first mile of the 6.2-mile race. But after that, Orach took complete control of the race. Gomez says he didn’t see Orach again until the final quarter mile of the race when he spotted Orach collapsed on the ground with medical personnel attending to him.
“For a split second I kept going until I looked and saw it was Jesse,” Gomez recalls. “I couldn’t leave him there. In the running community, I feel camaraderie comes before competitiveness.”
So Gomez helped Orach pick himself off the ground and held on to him for the final 100 meters of the race, literally pushing him across the finish line.
Both runners were given an official time of 31 minutes, 31 seconds, with Orach finishing first, a result that was perfectly fine with Gomez.
“He ran a better race. He gave it more than I did,” Gomez said. “I didn’t deserve to win.”
After the race, Orach spent an hour in the medical tent receiving treatment, as his body temperature rose as high as 107.3 degrees. Both Orach and his family were grateful for what Gomez did during the race. The two only just met the previous night at a pre-race event.
“But this guy here, what he did was so selfless,” Orach’s mom, Brenda, said about Gomez. “You don’t see that very often.”
Despite a photo of Gomez helping Orach across the finish line going viral on social media, Gomez has downplayed everything as something that most runners and Maine residents would do for a member of their community.
“I really hope that people see it as something that everyone should do,” says Gomez. “I hope they see it as the type of sportsmanship and camaraderie that Mainers in general have.”