Prep runner puts race aside to aid competitor

  • Article by: MARY LYNN SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 23, 2011 - 6:41 AM

High school athlete from Andover carried an injured teen from Lakeville South until they reached help.

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Josh Ripley didn’t win the race, but he got another runner to safety.

Mark Paulauskas was near the mile mark in his high school cross-country race when pain shot through his leg and a 3-inch gash to the bone stopped him in his tracks.

The Lakeville South freshman was calling out in pain after being accidentally punctured by another runner's spikes, but he wasn't surprised that no one stopped. "Cross-country running is a competitive sport," he said

Then suddenly along came this big guy -- a runner from another team -- who scooped up the 100-pound 14-year-old and continued running the course in search of help. "I said, 'Dude, what are you doing? You have to finish the race,'" Paulauskas said.

Josh Ripley wasn't concerned about his race time after seeing Paulauskas' lower leg covered in blood. "You could tell something was wrong," said the 16-year-old, a junior at Andover High School. But they were on the backside of the Applejack Invite 5-kilometer race -- a spot where there are no spectators, no coaches, no one to help.

"It was just a natural instinct to stop. He was in desperate need of help. People are more important to me than my race or my time. When someone's in need, it's my responsibility to step up," said Ripley, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 185 pounds.

He tried to calm the bleeding Paulauskas. "I tried to reassure him that I was going to get him to his parents and the hospital. ... He started to breathe and relax."

Paulauskas said he became numb to the pain and listened to Ripley's words of comfort. "He told me, 'It's going to be OK, man.'"

Other runners patted Ripley on the back as they passed, saying "Good job, man."

About a quarter-mile away, Paulauskas' coach, Jessica Just, began to hear there was trouble on the course. As some of her runners passed, they called out, "Mark is hurt." And then as she started to run in search of Paulauskas, more runners flew by on the course, yelling, "He's really hurt."

Then she saw the Andover athlete carrying her Lakeville South runner.

"I was just kind of stunned," she said. "It was heartwarming to see another runner, especially from another team, giving up his race basically to assist this kid, not just to help him but to carry him a couple hundred meters to get help. ...It was true sportsmanship. You talk to your kids about being good sportsmen and good teammates. This was a real-life example."

Ripley handed Paulauskas over to the Lakeville South coaches and jumped back into the race. He had fallen into last place. But with less than two miles to go, Ripley said, "I was feeling pretty good." He pushed on and passed a few runners before the finish line.

He shrugged off suggestions that he was a hero, but will be honored for his efforts at Monday's meeting of the Anoka-Hennepin school board. He's also fielded calls from numerous national and local news organizations.

"I'm flattered, but anyone else would have done the same thing,'' Ripley said "A lot of runners get into a zone, and they probably didn't think to stop until they had passed."

Paulauskas said until last week's injury, which took 20 stitches to close, he likely wouldn't have stopped for an injured runner.

"But now I would, because Josh did," Paulauskas said. "Everyone is so competitive, but now I would stop because it's the right thing to do."

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788

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