BREMEN, Ind. — Here’s some perspective and context with the principles for a quite remarkable story:
. Mike Alspaugh, an IHSAA official for 32 years, said he’s never seen such an act of sportsmanship.
OK . that’s a good place to start.
. Alex Rostron, a senior at Plymouth High School, is a distance runner who loves the sport and is courageously fighting his way back after a serious car accident last spring.
. Then there’s Bremen senior Hudson Thornton, more Clydesdale than gazelle in cross-country terms, whose long-term plan is to be in the Navy this time next year.
If this ever becomes a movie, there are all sorts of backdrops and subplots. Thornton’s mother, Tara, was Rostron’s favorite teacher in junior high. A rule about runner disqualification was just changed this year, though Thornton knew nothing about it. Besides a 3.7 GPA and being Bremen’s Student Council president, Thornton takes law enforcement classes at the Elkhart Career Center.
“I’m driven to help people,” said Thornton.
The crux of the story begins Tuesday, Aug. 23, on Bremen’s winding cross-country course. The Lions had an early season meet with rival Plymouth.
At 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, Thornton is running cross-country for the first time in his life. A discus thrower and shot putter in track, Thornton said he’d never run more than two miles without stopping before joining the team late this summer.
“Basic training in the Navy is going to be tough,” Thornton said. “I figured I could make it a little easier by getting in shape now.”
Turns out, most of that weight is heart.
“I don’t look at Hudson as a (back of the pack) guy,” said Bremen coach Eric Hudson. “I look at him as a runner who improves every time he’s out there.”
Thornton was certainly on track to improve in the Plymouth meet. Through two miles (of the 3.1-mile race) he was two minutes ahead of his PR (running talk for best time), according to his coach.
“He went out of sight for a minute, then he never came out,” said coach Hudson. “I remember saying, ‘Where’d he go?'”
Thornton stopped. He was hurting . but not as badly as Rostron. A twisted ankle stopped him in his tracks. He dropped to his knees once. Twice.
“I only remember snapshots of the whole (incident),” said Rostron.
Thornton let his instincts take over.
“I said, ‘Are you OK?'” Thornton recalled of his conversation with Rostron, as he bent over him. “He said, ‘I’m hurting.’ I said, ‘Yeah, me, too. Let’s get you back to the finish.'”
Thornton said he got Rostron up, put his arm around him, and helped him the three-quarters of a mile to the finish area.
“I saw Hudson helping Alex and was just amazed with what I was seeing,” said Alspaugh, the meet official.
“Something like this shows how sports can be different,” said Rostron. “Teams can be competitive; and teams can have sportsmanship. Both are important. You just have to find the right balance.
“Thornton proved that he could compete well, and still help when someone is in dire need.”
Thornton only shudders to think what his life would have been like had he not stopped.
“It’s a high school race,” he said matter-of-factly. “It’s not going to matter. If I wouldn’t have stopped, it would have been in my head a long time.
“I reckon it was the Holy Spirit that made me stop. If that’s not the path you take, then maybe it was relationships that were important. This was a human in need. It didn’t take long for me to figure out my priorities.”
The story doesn’t end there. Not only did Thornton make sure he got proper medical care for Rostron, he went back on the course — from the exact spot he had helped Rostron — and finished the race.
“It crossed my mind that if I take (Rostron) back and stay (in the finish area), I’d just be the fat kid that helped the other team,” Thornton said laughing. “Besides, I’ve been last before.” even after all that, Thornton wasn’t last. He managed to beat one “runner.”
“When he finished, I went and congratulated Hudson,” Alspaugh said. “He said, ‘I guess my time doesn’t count, huh?'”
In the past, he would have been disqualified. In his mind, Thornton figured he would be disqualified — and he still rose to the occasion. Alspaugh told him the rule had changed for just such an incident, and his time was official.
“After seeing that, even if there was a rule against it, I would have bent it a bit,” Alspaugh said.
“Mike and I both had tears in our eyes,” said coach Hudson. “Something like that is better than a state championship.”
“You meet some great people in a sport like cross-country,” Rostron said. “I was fortunate.”
So is everyone who knows Hudson Thornton.
Source: South Bend Tribune, http://bit.ly/2cpjzPn
Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com
This is an AP-Indiana Exchange story offered by the South Bend Tribune.