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Runner who stopped to help fallen competitor wins state

CLOVIS — Sometimes it’s not about winning or losing, good results or bad ones. Sometimes it’s about good deeds and what happens to people who make them.
Marin Catholic sophomore Samantha Wallenstrom made a good deed last week. She stopped during a section championship track race to help a fallen runner.
The gesture could have ended both runners’ season.
But the fallen runner got up, and the two — Wallenstrom and Concord’s Rayna Stanziano — finished 1-2 in the race to qualify for the California Interscholastic Federation state championships this weekend.
Fast forward to Saturday night.
Stanziano went out strong in the girls 800 final, just as she had last week at the North Coast Section Meet of Champions and in the state meet trials Friday.
She led through the first lap and a good portion of the second.
“I wanted to have no regrets,” Stanziano said. “I like to lead. That’s what I was going for today.”
But then another Bay Area runner, Menlo School’s Charlotte Tomkinson, the state leader in the 800 all season, made her move and passed Stanziano.
The finish line was in Tomkinson’s view, the state championship dangling in front of her like a sweet treat.
“I do like to finish really strong,” Tomkinson said. “I was kind of expecting that to take the lead, it would have to be in the last 100 to 200.”
Tomkinson grabbed the lead but knew the race was not over. She heard the announcer’s voice getting louder amid the cheers of the Veterans Memorial Stadium crowd.
Someone was coming on strong.
That someone was Wallenstrom, the girl who made the good deed a week earlier, the girl who had never covered 800 meters in under 2 minutes, 11 seconds.
Wallenstrom passed Tomkinson in the last 50 meters and crossed the finish line first, winning in 2:08.78 to Tomkinson’s 2:09.41.
Stanziano took third in 2:10.07.
“I was kind of thinking about there is nothing else after this,” Wallenstrom said. “This is the last thing. All the past couple of days I’ve just been thinking you’ve got to put everything into this because I am going to regret it if I don’t.
“So the last 200 meters, I guess I saw that this is it. Just knew put whatever you can into it.”
During a post-race interview by a stadium field announcer, a picture taken by Bay Area News Group freelancer Haley Nelson was shown on the video board as the crowd was told about Wallenstrom stopping to help the fallen Stanziano.
Samantha Wallenstrom (1) of Marin Catholic High School reaches back to help Rayna Stanziano (2) of Concord High School who fell during the girls 800 meter run at the North Coast Section Meet of Champions at Diablo Valley College on May 18, 2019 in Pleasant Hill, California. Wallenstrom finished in first place and Stanziano finished in second place. (Photo by Haley Nelson) Photograph by Haley Nelson
The picture showed Wallenstrom holding out her left arm as Stanziano, suffering from a virus, tried to get back on her feet to finish the race.
“It’s been kind of crazy,” Wallenstrom said about the aftermath of her gesture. “I wasn’t really thinking that it was going to turn into anything big. I wasn’t really thinking about how there was going to be a lot of news about it.
“But there was, and that was kind of a distracting couple of days. I had finals this week, so that was something that added on to a lot of stress. It was cool. This was the week I’ve kind of been focusing just on state, focusing on my race.”
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The race appeared to belong to Stanziano, just as the Meet of Champions race did.
The senior ran the first 200 in 28.7 seconds and covered the opening 400 in 60.7.
But Tomkinson caught her.
“I’d be lying if I said I was super happy about how it turned out,” Stanziano said. “But I can’t be disappointed that I was able to race here again. I felt like it was my race because I led for most of it.”
Though Tomkinson competes in the neighboring Central Coast Section, she was aware of what unfolded at the NCS meet.
The junior said Wallenstrom’s act of sportsmanship underscores the nature of the sport.
“I did see the video of them last week,” Tomkinson said. “I really think it’s a testimony to what a great community this is and really epitomizes the spirit we have. Even competitors really support each other.
“We’ve obviously very fierce and competitive out there. There’ll be some elbows that are flying while we’re racing. But at the finish line, it’s all love and support.”
The love Saturday night was for the girl who put her season in the most unselfish way imaginable.
Now she’s a state champion.
“This has definitely not been how I expected the night was going to go,” Wallenstrom said. “But I am not at all bummed.”
Check back later for video.

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