Rob Gomez could have easily won the Maine division of the TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K, the state’s premier road race. Jesse Orach was well ahead of Gomez when Orach collapsed short of the finish line. Gomez could have run past Orach and claimed the winner’s spot and prize money.
But he didn’t. Instead, he picked Orach up off the ground and helped him across the finish line. Orach, 23, of Gorham was declared the winner. Gomez, 34, was second in the Maine division. Technically, both men could have been disqualified from the race for giving and receiving aid.
Yet, Gomez became an instant role model.
“The bigger message is to me, I’m not a special person. I’m just one of a very large community of runners in this state,” Gomez, who is from Windham, told the BDN on Sunday, a day after the race. “What I did on Saturday was not out of the ordinary. It’s something most Mainers would have done.”
Gomez is right. Every day, Mainers, and others around the country and the world, quietly help one another. But, at the same time, our relations with one another have coarsened in recent years.
President Donald Trump almost daily belittles people he views as both threats and weaker than him. He frames issues in terms of winners and losers. He mocks people with disabilities and degrades women.
It isn’t just politicians who are behaving badly. Road rage is on the rise in America as is the use of guns in such incidents. Even simple disputes, like a recent disagreement over a garden, too often escalate to violence. People report being treated badly at the grocery store, at work, at school and, of course, online.
Against this backdrop, Gomez’s actions in Cape Elizabeth reminded us of our better human tendencies. Photos and videos of Gomez helping Orach across the finish line have been beamed around the world. Gomez’s selfless act was featured on the “ Today Show” Monday morning.
“I’m speechless with what he did,” Orach told the Portland Press Herald on Sunday. “[He] and I were kind of vying for that No. 1 Mainer spot, and for him to give that up for me is pretty remarkable.”
Gomez said he didn’t really think about what he was doing at the end of Saturday’s race. He believed Orach had run a better race and deserved to win, so he simply picked him up and helped him across the finish line. He wasn’t thinking about the $1,000 in prize money — which Orach says he intends to split with Gomez — or the winner’s medal.
His simple action has a broad resonance because it feels out of the ordinary at a time when, for many, winning is the measure of our national success. People helping other people, when they could have just run by to stand atop a medal stand, seems extraordinary.
“I really hope that people see it as something that everyone should do, and I hope they see it as the type of sportsmanship and camaraderie that Mainers in general have,” Gomez said.
We couldn’t agree more.