Lainey Bingham was just getting her stride, in the first mile of a high school cross country race, when she came upon trouble.
A competitor was on the ground in a wooded area. Without thinking, Bingham instinctively knew what she would do — stop in her tracks and help.
“When I was going by, she was already down,” said Bingham, a senior at Elmwood High School.
One of the struggling runner’s teammates and a couple of other girls had also stopped to assist.
“They were just screaming for help. I didn’t know what was going on at first, so I just ran back and got an adult,” Bingham said. “Then I ran back and helped the girls carry her out of the woods because she was unconscious.”
She didn’t give a second thought about continuing to race by the scene that was unfolding in front of her.
“These girls need help. I just can’t run by that. I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that. I just knew that I needed to do something to help them.”
The runner who was down regained consciousness as the girls carried her to the coach. There was also an ambulance waiting.
There were about a dozen teams at Saturday’s Columbus Grove Invite, said Jason Barringer, Elmwood High School cross country coach.
He said that coronavirus has changed cross country meets.
“Normally, along this stretch, there would be a hundred people watching these kids go into the woods. And because it was a covid year, there was no one really on the course, except for the coaches and a few fans,” Barringer said.
“These girls really made a tough decision to stop racing and to pull her out,” he said. “I commend these kids for doing that. They stopped and they did the right thing.
“They just took the bull by the horns and made the decision.”
Barringer and his assistant had jogged down to the mile mark and were waiting for the Elmwood girls to pass.
“We were waiting and Lainey’s usually one of our top runners. She’s usually the second or third kid by us. And when she wasn’t and she wasn’t and she wasn’t, one of her teammates came by … the way we understood it was Lainey had passed out.”
Then he heard that she had stopped to help.
“It didn’t surprise me that she’d do that,” Barringer said.
In his seven years of coaching, he said he’s seen kids pass out on courses before.
“But I’ve never seen a group of kids just jump into action,” Barringer said.
The girls, including Bingham, who stopped to help ended up finishing the three-mile race.
Barringer marveled that Bingham got faster as she re-entered the race.
“To get faster and start picking off other runners — it’s very normal for her to be focused on the team, so if she knew she needed to pick off some spots to help her team compete, even though that we knew that the time wouldn’t be the best.
“The sportsmanship definitely trumps the times.”
Bingham said she and the other girls who had stopped to help — with the exception of the downed runner’s teammate — decided to run together.
“We started going and started talking and said, ‘Let’s finish this together. We got this. Let’s push through and do it together.’”
They got word at the 2-mile marker that the girl was feeling better.
“We stuck together and we finished together,” Bingham said.
Barringer said Bingham has been captain of the cross country team for three years, starting as a sophomore.
“She’d help anybody, anytime, with pretty much anything,” said Barringer, who also is her assistant coach in basketball. “She sets the tone for our program.”
Elmwood High School Principal Ty Traxler said Bingham is an unbelievable kid.
“She’s a leader in her class. She’s a leader in our school. A lot of the younger kids all look up to her,” he said. “She’s always in a good mood. She’s always got a positive attitude.”
Bingham is part of the new high school leadership program. The L in Elmwood stands for leadership and the E is for empathy, Traxler said.
“Both of those things were on strong display when she helped that runner,” he said. “Leadership’s a big part of what we’re pushing at the high school right now and … Lainey, in the blink of an eye, showed everyone the leadership skills she had.”
Bingham, who is 17, is the daughter of Jerry and Stacey Bingham and has two older siblings. They live in Bloomdale.
Cross country isn’t Bingham’s first sport of choice, but she enjoys it. The three-sport athlete excels in softball.
“It’s fun. I like to be around my teammates and get in shape for basketball season. It’s just a good atmosphere,” she said.
Bingham plans to attend the University of Findlay, to play softball and study sonography, on a scholarship.
(Sentinel-Tribune multi-media journalist J.D. Pooley did the interviews for this story.)