COLUMBUS JUNCTION, Iowa –It was what Zach Hougland worked all summer long for. To become Davis County High School’s first ever cross country district champion. “I thought it was phenomenal. Everyone giving high fives and right when I crossed the finish line I couldn’t help but cry.”
Then five minutes later, “I see this kid, he’s like dying and what not, and he’s about ready to fall,” said Zach. The runner’s name was Garrett Hinson from Mediapolis.
Davis County Cross Country coach Josh Husted said, “He saw this runner on the ground unconscious and it seemed he wasn’t getting the medical attention he needed.” So Zach, jumped back on the course and helped Garrett. “It was about 15 meters from the finish line. I did it for seven meters, so he had about eight left. I knew I couldn’t help him finish so I just gave him a push and told him you can do it.”
Zach said Garret Hinson’s mother quickly expressed her gratitude, “She said I was her hero.”
While hero to some, a national cross country rule calls it illegal and disqualified both runners. Zach was heartbroken, saying, ” I didn’t want anyone to see me break down because I couldn’t take it. I did all that hard work for nothing.”
A statement from Bud Legg with the Iowa High School Athletic Association read,”An athlete who receives or gives assistance to another runner in the same race is disqualified. While it was a sportsmanlike act to help someone in distress it remained a violation and the official had no choice but to enforce the rule.”
When asked if he would change his actions if he could, Zach replied, “If I could do it all again I wouldn’t change a thing because I did what I thought was right.”
Despite the courageous act costing individual glory, Zach hopes it can teach a lifelong lesson to others. “If you show good sportsmanship, if you are there because you love what you are doing and having fun, I think that’s what it’s all about.”
The rest of the Davis County Mustangs team scored well enough to finish third overall and qualified for state as a team, meaning Zach will still be able to compete in Fort Dodge for the Class 2A state meet Saturday, October 31st.