In the sport of track and field, athletes compete not only with one another but against themselves, and with each race they strive to achieve a new personal best.
For one Nebraska teen running in what would likely be his final cross country outing before graduating high school, his personal best turned out not to be about marking the fastest time but displaying the biggest heart.
Although it was a long shot when he came out of the blocks last Thursday, Bellevue East senior Brandon Schutt knew if his time was good enough that day, he still had the potential to qualify for the upcoming state meet.
A mile into the 3.1-mile race, however, Schutt realized he wasn’t going to be able to keep up the necessary momentum.
Rather than risk injury, he slowed to a comfortable pace that would allow him to simply enjoy the moment and the day.
Meanwhile, Omaha Burke High School sophomore Blake Cerveny was running a very different kind of race.
Aiming to beat his own personal record, after a fast start, he continued to push himself hard.
With less than 400 meters to go, Cerveny’s legs cramped up and failed him.
His will did not.
Determined to finish, Cerveny rose from the ground and continued on, only to fall again after another 150 meters… and again, he got up and started running. This time he’d made it only 25 meters more before going down. But he wasn’t done yet.
Concerned, his dad and his coach asked Cerveny if he wanted to stop. He didn’t. With Herculean effort, the young runner pulled himself up and with an unsteady gait, moved forward for one final push.
It wasn’t enough. A scant 100 meters from the finish line, he lay curled on the ground. His legs had simply given out.
Before Cerveny’s dad could reach his son, another runner—Brandon Schutt—was at his side to offer a helping hand.
His first attempt to get Cerveny up failed, but like Cerveny, he too refused to quit. With a second tug, Cerveny was on his feet.
At a measured jog, with Cerveny holding Schutt for support and Schutt helping Cerveny maintain balance, the two completed the final 75 meters of the course in tandem.
Schutt even made sure the injured runner crossed the finish line first, securing his opponent a faster time.
“I saw Blake zig-zagging with 100 meters to go, a classic sign that his legs were about to give. As I kept my camera trained on him, I saw Brandon come into the picture. I began whispering, ‘No, no, no,’ to myself, because at the time, I didn’t know the Good Samaritan rule had been changed,” Jay Slagle, the citizen journalist who first broke the story on his blog, PrepRunningNerd.com told GNN.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen an athlete stop his race and work so hard to help his fellow competitor across the finish line,” he added. “Perhaps more impressively, Brandon had virtually no time to think about whether he should help or not; he reacted so quickly that he did it instinctively.”
Three weeks prior to this meet, Schutt had found himself in the same situation as Cerveny, unable to complete the race. “I felt awful about not finishing,” he told KETV-7. “I felt like I was letting my teammates down and I was letting myself down—so ultimately I just made the call [to help him].”
As Cerveny was taken to the medical tent for care, Schutt rejoined his teammates for a post-race cool-down. (Cerveny, who was only suffering from extreme muscle fatigue with no sustained injuries, was soon up and able to leave on his own steam.)
Ironically, though the pair had competed in five separate races over the course of the season, they were still strangers. At the end of the eventful day, neither Cerveny nor Schutt knew each other’s names.
Thanks to Slagle’s coverage and a whirlwind of social media, however, Schutt’s uncredited act of kindness was quickly anything but anonymous. Soon enough, the local news outlet that picked up the story and ran with it arranged an on-camera reunion in which the boys were given the opportunity to reflect on what the day’s events had meant to them.
In today’s competitive world in which the emphasis in athletics is so often put on breaking records, it was inspiring to see that for an athlete like Brandon Schutt, the value of true sportsmanship still had legs.
“Brandon is an excellent person,” Bellevue East’s head track coach Rachel Carraher told KETV-7. “He is really kind and a great leader on the team.”