He deserved to finish

As he neared the finish line at the 2014 NAIA Men’s Cross Country Championships, Cameron Woodberry of Wayland Baptist University (Texas) collapsed. “I was struggling to make it,” the sophomore said. “I had fallen once already, then I started struggling again. I just shut down.”

But out of nowhere, Woodberry got assistance he never expected. Mount Mercy senior Tyler Keith ’15 stopped running his national championship race in order to come to Woodberry’s aid. “I was maybe 150 meters from the finish line and I saw a downed runner,” said Keith. “It caught me off guard. I thought he had tripped and thought maybe he could get up on his own.”

But he couldn’t. “The only thing going through my mind when it happened was ‘I’ve got to finish,’” Woodberry said. Thanks to Keith, as well as Adrian Castillo of Embry-Riddle University (Ariz.), he did. Keith draped Woodberry’s left arm around his neck and the two continued the race together. As the two exhausted runners were a few yards from the finish line, Castillo grabbed Woodberry’s other arm and the three of them finished the race together.

“There’s nothing worse than training all year long and not being able to finish the biggest race of the year,” said Keith, the Midwest Collegiate Conference Harrier of the Year. Keith was overwhelmed by the response to his selfless act, which was featured on the NAIA website and went viral on YouTube. “It spread like wildfire,” he said.

Keith went to nationals hoping to break school records, not create headlines. “At first, I was embarrassed by all the attention,” said Keith. “Helping another athlete shouldn’t have been such a big deal, but it was. For me, it was never a decision to help him out, it was a reflex.”

Keith racing in the 2014 MCC Championships.

For those who know Keith, what he did at the NAIA national meet was no surprise. “Simply put, that’s the kind of guy that Tyler is,” said Mount Mercy Cross Country Coach Ryan Scheckel ’01.

According to Scheckel, it was evident from day one that Keith wasn’t your typical recruit. “As soon as he stepped on campus four years ago, I could tell he was special. I’ve never coached a more mature and team-oriented student-athlete.”

At track meets during his freshman year, he was everywhere. Cheering on his teammates, running from one side of the track to the other giving encouragement. “At one point,” Scheckel said, “I asked him to stop so he would have energy left for his own races.”

Ask anyone who knows Keith, he is exactly who he appears to be. “Tyler would do anything for anybody,” said teammate Erik Ryan ’16. It didn’t surprise us to see what he did at nationals. It’s just who he is.”

Scheckel admits that he didn’t realize exactly what Keith did until several days later. “I figured he may have helped someone to their feet, not carry them over the finish line.”

He also points out that it wasn’t the first time Keith did something admirable at a national meet. At nationals in Oregon at the end of Keith’s freshman season, three purses were stolen from a Mount Mercy team van. “Tyler felt terrible for his teammates and bought them each flowers,” Scheckel said.

While it’s obvious that Keith brought a lot to Mount Mercy, it’s evident that this first-generation college graduate gained just as much. “My time at Mount Mercy allowed me to realize my own independence,” Keith said. “Family reunions have been fun because they’re always eager to hear stories about ‘the best years of my life.’”

“Looking back, I’m genuinely proud of my accomplishments and my development as a student, but more importantly, as a person. Instead of waiting for something good to happen to me, I chose to make something good happen.”

Woodberry and his coach, Brian Whitlock, can attest to that. At nationals, Whitlock said, “I ran to the finish line and shook Tyler’s hand and thanked him.” His response was, “No problem. He deserved to finish.”

Written by Jason Furler ’95 with assistance from Kevin Lewis, director of marketing and media relations at Wayland Baptist University.