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From strangers to friends: How this selfless act near the finish line of a race was bigger than a win

Maggie Duba helps up Sarah Storey near the finish line of the Division 2 state cross country finals in Brooklyn, Michigan on Nov. 6/Dave McCauley
Maggie Duba helps up Sarah Storey near the finish line of the Division 2 state cross country finals in Brooklyn, Michigan on Nov. 6/Dave McCauley (RunMichigan.com)

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Maggie Duba didn’t know who she was, but all she could see was another competitor on the ground, coughing, moaning, and in need of paramedics.

It was the stretch run of the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s Division 2 state cross country finals on Nov. 6, and Duba was barreling toward the end of the race, in hopes of getting the best finish possible.

Instead, she stopped just yards from that finish line.

She cost herself several spots in the final standings, but ended up doing something even more valuable.

Photo courtesy of Dave McCauley
Photo courtesy of Dave McCauley (RunMichigan.com)

‘She wasn’t really with it, at all’

Duba, a junior at Grand Rapids West Catholic Central High School, had never met Sarah Storey before this cross-country meet.

Storey is a junior at Remus Chippewa Hills High School.

The schools are about 70 miles apart.

But the two will be lifelong friends after experiencing what unfolded that day at Michigan International Speedway.

Here was the situation: The race traditionally is run in cold and sometimes snowy November conditions, but record heat saw temperatures climb past 70 degrees that day.

As she was headed toward the finish line, Duba noticed that Storey “didn’t have anything left” and was hunched over on the ground. Duba said she has seen runners numerous times on TV at the Olympics help other runners who are down, and that was fresh on her mind.

“It was more doing than thinking,” Duba said. “It was (my) instinct to go and grab her. I’ve seen it with so many Olympians.”

So Duba reached down and helped Storey to her feet, holding her up as the two jogged lightly to the finish line to complete the race.

The two were toward the back of the pack, with Duba ending up finishing 93rd and Storey in 98th place out of 130 runners, but that wasn’t important.

“She wouldn’t have been able to finish if nobody stopped,” Duba said.

Not only that, but helping the teen in need to the finish line put Storey closer to the paramedics.

“It was a little different, because my legs gave out first,” Storey said. “I went down but I don’t remember a ton. I didn’t really know what was going on.”

Storey’s parents then came down to the ambulance to check on their daughter, and they quickly realized what a struggle it was for her.

“She wasn’t really with it, at all,” Beth Storey said.

After about 30 minutes, Sarah Storey was treated and she went home.

But at that point, it led to the same question asked by both sides: Who was that?

The quest to find out who helped

Noreen Duba, who is the West Catholic cross-country coach and Maggie’s mother, didn’t even know who Storey was at the time, let alone how to find out if she was going to be OK.

The same was true for the Storeys, who obviously wanted to know more about the Good Samaritan who helped Sarah.

There turned out to be a breakthrough when a former runner at Chippewa Hills, Megan O’Neil, saw what happened and recognized who Maggie Duba was, because O’Neil was a counselor at a summer cross-country camp Duba attended.

O’Neil alerted the Chippewa Hills coach, and Storey found Duba on Instagram on Friday night, thanking her for the sacrificial act.

Beth Storey also found Noreen Duba’s number and called to thank her on Friday, and let her know Sarah Storey was OK.

The two then had an extensive conversation that Sunday.

“I thanked her for raising an outstanding young lady, and (we said) that we are both so proud of our daughters,” Beth Storey said.

The moms ultimately became Facebook friends, as well.

“The help of a stranger at the time who became a friend -- it was an amazing thing,” Beth Storey said.

State championship act sets up future friendship

Since the finals ended, Maggie Duba has gotten more attention for her act than if she would’ve won a state championship.

Noreen Duba said there have been countless calls, texts and messages on social media about what her daughter did.

“It shows you in the big picture what people think is most important,” Noreen Duba said.

After a visit to the doctor Monday, both Beth and Sarah Storey are still unclear how she nearly passed out, something she has never done before in a race.

Her iron was a little low, and there might have been some heat exhaustion involved, but some bewilderment remains as to how this happened.

“The doctor said it was a fluke thing and probably wouldn’t happen again,” Beth Storey said. “But it just happened to be at the state finals.”

Noreen Duba was initially hoping that her daughter would be closer to the lead pack of runners in the race, but has since realized there was another purpose to be served.

“There’s a reason why God had Maggie there and not toward the front,” Noreen Duba said.

Since both are juniors, there are now opportunities to reunite and run together in the future, either with their respective track teams in the spring or for their final year of cross-country in the fall of 2021.

No doubt, the two strangers who didn’t know each other before Friday are looking forward to running future races together as friends.

“We want to find a time we can get together and run and not pass out while doing it,” Sarah Storey said.


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