The 2016 Olympics are in the past and perhaps largely forgotten as the sports world moves on. Still, I can’t get a particular incident from Rio out of my mind. If you didn’t see the images of what happened during a qualifying heat of the women’s 5,000 meter race, you missed a heart-warming story.


Around the 3,000 meter point, American Abbey D’Agostino fell amid a pack of athletes and accidentally clipped New Zealand runner Nikki Hamblin. Both women fell hard onto the track in a gut wrenching sprawl. Abbey recovered first and got up, but Nikki lay dazed and crying. Abbey touched her competitor’s shoulder and encouraged her to finish the race, then she physically helped Nikki to her feet.


At that point Abbey’s leg buckled, and it was clear she was badly injured. The helping role pivoted to Nikki, who supported her previous competitor and waited to be sure Abbey was able to continue, even if it was with a limp. Nikki hung back with Abbey to offer support until Abbey told her to run ahead.


Nikki finished the race first, and she turned to wait for Abbey, whose injury was so severe she was lapped by other runners. When Abbey stumbled across the finish line, Nikki hugged her, then called for medics to come to the American’s aid.


The feel-good story quickly went viral and both runners were interviewed by various media. Their unexpected encounter highlights the essence of sportsmanship, where compassion bests competition. It also reminds me of Ecclesiastes 4:10, when the wisest man in the world writes, “Pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”


In recent months I’ve seen shattering falls strike people and groups I care about. Illness, betrayal, squashed dreams, insurmountable obstacles, exhaustion, abuse, addiction, various forms of defeat, hopelessness, failures of leadership – the type of stumble is less important than what happens next.


Whether the fault is our own, someone else’s, or simply the result of an unexpected storm, when we buckle under the burden, we all need someone to help us up. We are desperate for a compassionate hand to lift us to our feet and encourage us to keep going. We long for someone to come alongside and walk with us when we’re unable to run, or just sit with us if we can’t yet stand. We hope someone will call the medics when the spill is severe enough to require professional help.


In recent months I’ve seen the best of people as well as the worst. Kind souls who bring food to the sick and offer hope to the discouraged. Those who sit quietly with the hurting or grieving without attempting to fix or advise. Strong arms who shoulder the load when it’s too much for the laborer; others who consistently offer to help. More who pray from afar and let the struggler know about the prayers submitted on her behalf. Those who provide the simple ministry of encouragement, or an assurance of peace for the one who is overwhelmed.


If you are blessed to be still standing today, who around you needs a helping hand?


Marnie C. Ferree