SALT LAKE CITY — With just 200 meters to go in the state cross-country championship, Riverton High School senior Sean Rausch was fixated on finishing the race — until he came across teammate Blake Lewis, who was writhing in pain on the ground.
Moments earlier, Lewis heard a crack, followed by a horrible pain in his left leg. He later learned he had broken his tibia.
Rausch, who was running behind Lewis and did not witness the fall, saw him on the ground in pain and in tears. He stopped, asked Lewis if he wanted to finish the race, and then carried his teammate piggyback the remainder of the race and across the finish line.
Rausch said he has no regrets about his choice.
"I actually saw a video, something like this a couple of years ago. I saw that, and I was so inspired," he said in an interview Tuesday. "I thought, 'If I were ever in that situation, I would for sure want to be carried or I would want to help someone out.' So I made the decision to carry Blake. I made this decision a couple of years ago. It wasn't just an instinct."
But it meant that both runners would be disqualified in the 6A championships in what was Rausch's final state-level race his senior year.
"It was a very easy decision to make. Me and Blake have been through so much together. He's always been there for me. This was, honestly, the least I could do for him," Rausch said.
Lewis, a junior, said he bawled every step of the remaining 200 meters — not so much because he was thinking of himself, but for the sacrifice his friend and teammate was making for him.
"I was thinking, 'What are you doing? You're taking yourself out of the race. You're disqualifying yourself,'" Lewis said.
"I was crying from emotion and also from a lot of pain," he said.
Lewis was on track for a personal best during the final state meet of the year, he said. Earlier on the course, the boys' coach had told team members that a state title was in reach if they continued on the pace they were running.
Riverton High finished in third place, with Joey Nokes placing 10th, and other teammates earning honors for their academic achievements.
Still, the team didn't gather for a customary celebration. Instead, they kneeled together in prayer. Runners from Riverton High rallied around Lewis as he waited for an ambulance to take him to an emergency room.
Lewis' mother, Brooke Lewis, said she was close enough to the runners that she heard a cracking sound, which she initially thought was her son stepping on a large twig. Moments later, her 16-year-old son was on the ground.
"The way he came down, I thought it was his knee. I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh. He’s torn his ACL or something like that.' I had no idea that what I was hearing was his bone breaking," she said.
As her son cried out in pain, Brooke Lewis started to figure out a way to cross a barrier fence to reach him. The teen had fallen on a narrow part of the trail, his mother was worried that other runners would step on him.
Rausch got to Blake Lewis first and asked him if he wanted to finish the race. The injured runner said yes, and Rauch, who is about the same size as Lewis, lifted his teammate on his back and carried him to the finish line.
"It was horrifying when it happened but also the most beautiful thing," Brooke Lewis said.
Video of the ordeal has gone viral, as if people around the world were hungry for such a ''good news" story, she said.
Knowing Rausch and the character of the Riverton cross-country team, Lewis said she wasn't surprised by the events. The boys are close friends on and off the course. The older students serve as mentors to underclassmen.
Close bonds are forged on their long runs together, often 10 miles in length. During the offseason, it is not uncommon for the boys to run 70 miles a week.
Blake Lewis said doctors have told him it will probably be six months before he can return to his former training regiment.
Meanwhile, Rausch and his teammates are training for an upcoming race in Arizona. The Lewises plan to be there to cheer on the Riverton runners, Blake Lewis said.
After high school, Rausch said he plans to serve an LDS Church mission and go to college.
Blake Lewis, meanwhile, has designs on lowering his times and returning full force to the cross-country squad next fall. He also wants to be the type of mentor to underclassmen that Rausch has been to him.
Moreover, he is committed to paying forward the kindness Rausch extended to him.12 comments on this story
"Because Sean carried me, in the future, I'm going to be there for someone else that has a problem, to carry a person to the finish line. I want to be that person and be there for our team to grow the bonds we have and make them stronger," Blake Lewis said.
While the story going viral is somewhat overwhelming, Blake Lewis said he is grateful that the world can see the sacrifice his friend and teammate made for him.
"Sean did something so great. It deserved to recognized," he said.
As he recovers at home, Blake Lewis has had some time to process the events.
"We wanted to bring home a trophy, but we brought home something more valuable — a life lesson that will probably never be forgotten by my teammates," he said.