The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Will Korn 

Exhausted Sidney runner gets heartfelt lift from competitor

Wiedeburg assisted across finish line in amazing show of sportsmanship


Donna Wiedeburg / For The Sun-Telegraph

Kearney Catholic runner Liam Murphy, left, assists Sidney's Jachob Wiedeburg toward the finish line at Friday afternoon's Class C state cross country meet.

Mankind is fiercely competitive by nature.

We are programmed to fight for what is ours, to never go down without a fight and to feel the heat of battle when challenged by someone or something. It's what makes sports fascinating.

But sometimes, we lose track of the lessons we can learn from the sports world. Sometimes it's just too easy to focus on who won, who lost and by how much.

But every once in a while, we regain a sense of who we really are and recalibrate our understanding of some of the most oft forgotten aspects of sportsmanship. Those moments – though seemingly few and far between – are always special.

One of those moments occurred Friday afternoon in Kearney during the NSAA Class C state cross country meet.

Senior Jachob Wiedeburg – Sidney's top runner – was among the leaders of a 95-runner field at the 3,500-meter mark of the 5K race. The school's first state championship was in the crosshairs and for the first 13 minutes of the race, Wiedeburg's team was in excellent position to take it back home.

But then, the unthinkable happened. Wiedeburg's legs suddenly gave out.

"Three and a half kilometers in, my legs just shut down," Wiedeburg said.

It was an 81-degree afternoon – a warmer day than the Sidney team had been used to in a while. Wiedeburg had run this course several times before – its steep hills, though challenging, were nothing new to him.

Wiedeburg began to stumble as he came around the last visible corner of the race's homestretch. Hundreds of spectators were in shock that one of Nebraska's strongest runners this season was struggling like he was. Every step took more and more out of an already exhausted body.

Still, he pressed forward, however slowly. This was his senior state race – his final time running as a high schooler.

"There was no way I was dropping out of that race, senior year at state," Wiedeburg said. "I was just looking for something to get me through it."

That something came in the most unexpected, yet heartwarming form.

Another runner in the race – Kearney Catholic senior Liam Murphy – stopped in his tracks to pick up Wiedeburg and carry him about 400 meters to the finish line. The two runners were greeted by nearly two minutes of applause from the bystanders at the finish line.

They had just seen something spectacular.

"I was coming around that last corner and I saw him stumbling," Murphy said. "As I got closer, I could tell he wasn't going to finish on his own. I didn't know him personally, but I knew he was a senior and it was his last race – I couldn't let him not finish. I knew if a race official helped him instead of myself or another runner, he would have been disqualified."

As the two runners approached the finish line, Murphy stopped to let Wiedeburg finish ahead of him. Wiedeburg finished 88th, while Murphy followed right behind him in 89th. The applause continued, even as both runners were taken into the nearby recuperation tents.

"I wouldn't have been able to finish without him picking me up, Wiedeburg said. "That meant the world to me."

Donna Wiedeburg, Jachob's mother and Sidney assistant coach, saw everything from her vantage point as the team's photographer along the edge of the course.

"My thoughts quickly changed from 'coach' to 'mom' as I watched Jachob collapse and continue to struggle back to his feet," Wiedeburg said. "When he collapsed on the straightaway with a couple hundred meters to go, I imagined his career would end right there and then I saw Liam come and help him up and wrap his arm around Jake and walk him to the finish line, but he pushed Jake through the finish line first.

"I was worried for Jachob's well-being and so grateful to Liam for putting the needs of a complete stranger above his own. What a selfless act of kindness and a wonderful portrait of the human spirit."

Sidney head coach Tony Neels and Kearney Catholic assistant coach Jonathan Nikkila watched as their runners came in together.

For both coaches, the team's and runners' results were far from satisfactory. But for a few moments that afternoon, they both put aside the scores and remembered what their sport is truly all about.

"That was a special moment I will never forget," Neels said. "As a coach, I tell my kids that winning is fun but seeing them become good people is much more important to me. That's what it's all about. Liam and the example he displayed on Friday is a prime example of that. He didn't take home a medal on Friday, but he was the biggest winner in my book for what he did for Jachob."

Nikkila said that kind of good deed isn't surprising coming from Murphy.

"It didn't shock me that Liam would be the person to do it (help Wiedeburg)," Nikkila said. "Everyone in the crowd got a glimpse of exactly what kind of person Liam is in public and in private. He is an extremely hard worker and expects a lot of himself in competition. However, ultimately, he has a servant's heart.

"He's such a wonderful balance of competitiveness and selflessness. I've been very honored to coach him."

"Both boys reminded us of two important life lessons - never give up and never give up an opportunity to help another person," Wiedeburg said.

Wiedeburg says he too will never forget what Murphy did for him that afternoon.

"He gave up his senior year for me," Wiedeburg said.

"And I would have done the same for him."


Reader Comments

DLK writes:

Great story, I really enjoyed reading it.


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