How much can a stranger really do for you?

Throughout our lives we hear cliche lines about being nice to strangers and doing nice things, but how often do we tend to think about how far these small things really go?

October 22, 2014, I had surgery to repair a torn ACL. I’ve always loved to eat so I knew if I stopped being active it would take a toll on my health, so I decided my knee was not going to hold me back. I set deadlines and worked hard during my physical therapy sessions to get to where I wanted to be. About 6 months after my surgery I signed up for a 5k.

The day of the race came and I had not been able to finish my practice run the day before. I tried to run as much as possible, but it was hard to stay motivated when I didn’t even believe I could do it. I hated running before my surgery, and having a hurt knee only made me hate it more. But, I had already paid for the run, so I thought I’d run what I could and walk the rest. When I started running I ran for the first mile and a half but I started to tire out and started walking. Then, this stranger who happened to have stopped to tie his shoe saw me walking. He started saying “nope we didn’t come this far to stop, nope come on let’s go! LET’S GO!” He stayed with me to the end of the race, never once letting me stop. He didn’t have to do that but he kept saying “we’re almost done! come on go go go.” He was fine, he probably would have placed higher had he not stopped to run beside me, but he didn’t. He stayed with me the whole time.

When the race was over he clapped, high fived me, said “see I knew you could!” then walked away. After I caught my breath I tried to find him but there were over three hundred people there so I never saw him again. I finished the race in 29:50, lower than even before my surgery. This man whose name I don’t know and who probably forgot me within days, pushed me to my limit, he pushed me to do what I didn’t think I could do.

Me finishing the race, while he clapped.

We as people tend to seek support, motivation, and as much as we like to deny it, approval from others. We tend to be so occupied with receiving support, receiving motivation, and receiving approval that we forget to give support, help motivate, and accept others for who they are. That stranger changed me, not because he helped me finish the race faster, but because he had to finish slower to do so. It may not have been that big of a deal for him to finish slower, as this was not a big race, but it was a BIG deal for me to finish period.

I learned that day that the minute or two he lost on his time gave me wisdom I would not have gained had I walked the rest of the race. That man had no idea who I was, he didn’t know if I actually could finish the race, but he didn’t care. We as people should learn to do that more often. We should learn to support and motivate others, regardless of their opportunities to succeed. We should accept other people’s dreams regardless of their impact on our lives. We should help friends, even if we know they’ll become strangers if they succeed, and we should support strangers, as some day they may become friends.

We should give as much as much as we think we should receive.

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