When high-school runner Zach Hougland was the first to pass the finish line at the district cross-country meet last week, he said the feeling of being rewarded for his months of hard work was “phenomenal.” But, minutes later, Zach’s title was stripped when he went back on the course to help an ailing competitor.
“I didn’t want anyone to see me break down because I couldn’t take it. I did all that hard work for nothing,” Zach told WHO TV. Coach Josh Husted supported Zach, explaining the other runner was “on the ground unconscious and it seemed he wasn’t getting the medical attention he needed.” That’s when Zach jumped in and helped the runner get closer to help at the finish line. The touching moment where Zach (in the maroon shorts) helped the competitor was captured by a fan in the top picture.
After Zach and the other runner were disqualified, sparking outrage from supporters, a spokesperson for the Iowa High School Athletic Association said the rules are clear: “An athlete who receives or gives assistance to another runner in the same race is disqualified. While it was a sportsmanlike act to help someone in distress it remained a violation and the official had no choice but to enforce the rule.”
Even though Zach was understandably heartbroken to lose his title, he said he wouldn’t hesitate to take the same action again. He added, “If you show good sportsmanship, if you are there because you love what you are doing and having fun, I think that’s what it’s all about.” Fortunately, Zach will get a chance to compete again at the state meet on Saturday, thanks to the solid performance by the rest of his team.