By Beth Stebner
PUBLISHED: 19:10 EST, 5 June 2012 | UPDATED: 19:17 EST, 5 June 2012
A high school runner competing in the 3200-metre race is receiving national attention, not for winning or a feat of athleticism, but for an extraordinary act of kindness after she helped a struggling competitor finish the race.
Meghan Vogel, a 17-year-old junior at West Liberty Salem High School in western Ohio, is now being praised for her sportsmanship, and has had to deal with an overwhelming response to the now-famous photograph.
She said she appreciates the accolades but said today that she is a bit overwhelmed by the praise that has been pouring in since Saturday’s track meet in Columbus.
The 17-year-old was in last place in the 3,200-meter run as she caught up to Arlington High School sophomore Arden McMath, whose body was giving out.
Instead of zipping past Ms McMath to avoid the last-place finish, Ms Vogel draped the runner’s arm around her shoulders, half-dragging and half-carrying her about 30 metres to the finish line.
The memorable picture, taken by the Piqua Daily Call photographer Mike Ullery, has helped the runner’s story go national, the Dayton Daily News reported.
He could not immediately be reached by MailOnline for comment on the photograph.
Now Ms Vogel, who pushed Ms McMath over the line before crossing it, has been getting Facebook and Twitter messages and mail from friends and strangers saying she has inspired them with her sportsmanship.
It’s an honour and very humbling,’ Ms Vogel told the Associated Press in a telephone interview from her West Liberty home. ‘I just thought I was doing the right thing, and I think others would have done the same.’
But Ms McMath, 16, of Findlay, said in a telephone interview from her northwestern Ohio home that she’s not so sure.
‘I’ really don’t think just everyone would have done that,’ she said. ‘I just couldn’t believe what she did – especially pushing me in front of her – and I’m so grateful.’
Both girls are a little hazy about the details.
‘The last thing I remember was seeing Arden fall and then trying to get her to the finish line,’ Ms Vogel said.
Ms McMath, meanwhile, remembered feeling like she was ‘blacking in and out’ and falling a few times before Ms Vogel helped her.
‘It’s an honour and very humbling. I just thought I was doing the right thing, and I think others would have done the same.’
Ms Vogel, who had won the 1,600-meter race earlier, said she was emotional and tired from that when she began the longer race.
She also felt ‘a little woozy’ afterward and found herself next to Ms McMath in the training room, where the Arlington student was being treated. Ms McMath says her sodium levels were low, but she has recovered.
Ms Vogel’s mother, Ann Vogel, is West Liberty-Salem’s track and field coach. Technically both runners should have been disqualified, but the official decided not to make that call, she said.
Neither runner scored any points, so team standings weren’t affected. McMath finished 14th, and Vogel finished last at 15th.
Ann Vogel said she’s very proud of her daughter, and the response has been amazing. ‘People were coming up to us in tears and hugging both of us after the race,’ the mother told the AP.
She said she was surprised by some negative comments on the Internet and talk radio criticizing her daughter for a lack of competitiveness.
‘I can’t believe people would twist an act of kindness like that,’ she said.
The girls say they hope to stay in touch and expect the public attention to die down soon. ‘It’s been nice, but it also will be nice to get back to normal,’ Meghan Vogel said.