By Jessica Smith
Cross country is a sport where athletes perfect the art of moving forward. Constant motion is key. Breaking stride is not an option.
But on Sept. 28, Northern Michigan University’s Jaylee Brown was commended for breaking her stride. Something other than the time on the clock mattered on that day.
Brown was competing at the 28th Roy Griak Invitational, America’s largest cross country race. As she toed the line, she approached this race like any other: She was focused, determined and ready to run.
“It was a huge meet,” said Brown, a Northern Michigan sophomore from Onekama, Michigan. “It’s bigger than any high school races I ever ran. Bigger than my state meet. There were so many people there, so many people to go after.”
Brown was having a good day, picking off runners one by one. The finish was within sight. But just as she was about to reap the rewards of a downhill finish, her focus shifted from passing competitors to a runner down on the course.
“I was just getting over the uphill, and I saw this girl just sitting on the ground,” said Brown. “It looked like she was in a lot of pain. I kept looking at her and looking at the finish. I got closer, and she was, like, reaching out.”
That’s when Brown broke her stride and stopped to help Dordt College runner Lillie Koerner.
“I grabbed her arm and put her around my shoulder,” said Brown. “I told her, ‘You can do this. You can finish.’”
Many runners had passed Koerner before Brown stopped. But for Brown, that wasn’t an option.
“To come all that way and not be able to finish really breaks my heart because I know how hard it is,” said Brown. “I feel like it was my job to help her. I would hate that to happen to me. I know I would want someone to help me.”
The finish line wasn’t far, but carrying the weight of another person after running nearly three miles was no easy task. Brown managed to help Koerner keep moving forward, and both women finished the race.
Brown might have crossed the finish line a little slower that day, but to her teammates and her coach, the performance was something to celebrate. Her act of sportsmanship trumped any time she could have run.
For Brown, the takeaway is simple.
“I hope when people hear my story they know that even in the simplest of moments you can help people,” Brown said. “I hope that people will pass it on and pay it forward.”