MARQUETTE - In a sport where success is measured strictly by how much time passes on the clock, it takes a lot to sacrifice a second to help another person.
That's exactly what Northern Michigan University cross country runner Jaylee Brown did when she helped a downed runner from another team in sight of the finish line of the Roy Griak Invite on Sept. 28 in St. Paul, Minn.
"I grabbed her and I put her arm around my shoulder," Brown said. "I told her, 'Let's go. We're going to finish this.'"
(Photo courtesy of Brian Harrell/www.brianharrell.com)
Northern Michigan University cross country runner Jaylee Brown (852) helps Dordt College runner Lillie Koerner to the finish line of the NCAA Division II race of Roy Griak Invite on Sept. 28 in St. Paul, Minn.
Brown said Dordt College runner Lillie Koerner, the fallen competitor, was dead weight when she tried to pick her up. Brown persevered and helped Koerner through the finish. From there, Koerner was taken to the athletic trainer's tent for medical attention.
The course concludes with a long, gradual downhill straightaway, and Brown said the downed runner stuck out like a sore thumb with women running past on either side of her. Brown said stopping to help was not a conscious decision.
"I know how you feel at the end of the race and you can't go that far and not finish," Brown said. "I had to help her. It was just one of those things."
Brown said she was nervous NMU head coach Jenny Ryan would be upset her time was slower from coming to a dead stop in the final stretch of the race.
"That was probably stupid of me to think," Brown said, giggling, "but it was one of the things that went through my head."
Ryan was about 400 meters from the finish at the time, so she found out what happened through Brown's teammates. Ryan said she was proud of what Brown did, although she was not surprised.
"I told her sometimes there are more important things than what your time is," Ryan said. "If in your head and in your heart, you felt that was the right thing to do, then that was the right thing to do."
Although she helped Koerner with no expectations of praise, Brown's actions did not go unnoticed. Brown said the most meaningful recognition she received was from her teammates, who congratulated her and commended her character.
"That was really awesome to get so much support from the team, when at the time I didn't think what I did was that big of a deal," Brown said.
Ryan said she encourages good values within the team, such as being good people and doing the right thing. She said they have a supportive atmosphere and continually work to stay positive.
"I know any other girl on our team would've done it if they saw it happen," Brown said. "They have so much character and they're just people like that. It's what cross country is all about."
By the time the team arrived back at the hotel from the meet, Ryan had already received a congratulatory email from a spectator.
Karyn Westermeier and her husband were at the Roy Griak Invite to watch their daughter run in the NCAA Division III race and decided to stay for the Div. II race. They witnessed Koerner's fall and Brown stop to help.
"All I can say is there were a lot of runners who went right around the Dordt runner and didn't do what Jaylee did," Westermeier said.
Westermeier said she and her husband were touched by Brown's actions. After the runners crossed the finish, Westermeier turned around to look at her husband and he had tears in his eyes.
"What we witnessed was a testament to her character, her upbringing and the values Coach Ryan is instilling in her runners," Westermeier said.
NMU athletic director Forrest Karr said in an email to Ryan that he and director of sports information Calvin Larson will nominate Brown for the NCAA Div. II Female Sportsmanship Award.
Student athletes nominated for this award have demonstrated one or more aspects of sportsmanship on the competitive field.
"It'd be cool, not for myself, but just to see the award to come to Northern Michigan," Brown said.