FREEPORT — He didn’t win the race, but Rob Gomez definitely won the hearts of anyone who witnessed the finish of the TD Beach to Beacon 10K road race.
The sportsmanship and camaraderie he demonstrated Aug. 5 also earned Gomez a prize usually reserved for the race winners: a Beacon Box handcrafted by Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers, presented to Gomez at the company showroom Aug. 10 by race founder Joan Benoit Samuelson.
Thos. Moser has been making handcrafted boxes for the race’s top Elite, American, and Maine runners since 2014. Showroom manager Steve Wyman called the boxes the trophy of the race.
Every year, he said, an extra box is made “just in case.”
This was one of those years.
Paul Gori, Thos. Moser director of business and a Beach to Beacon runner, had the idea to give the extra box to Gomez after the Windham runner sacrificed his own performance to help an opponent in need.
Gomez, 34, assisted Jesse Orach, 23, of Gorham, for the final 50 meters of the 6.2-mile course after Orach collapsed for the second time that day due to heat stroke.
“I felt someone kind of grab me from my armpits,” Orach said. “It was all a blur from that moment on, but I do remember Rob saying something along the lines of ‘You’re going to finish this.'”
Gomez’ mother, Connie, recalled looking for her son after the race, when one of his friends pointed to Gomez being interviewed and said, “Your son is a hero.”
“That’s when the tears came,” Connie said. “I’m so proud of him.”
By helping Orach across the finish line, Gomez forfeited the first-place finish and a $1,000 prize. Instead, he took home second place and a $500 purse.
But according to Gomez, none of this crossed his mind.
“I just made an instinctual decision,” Gomez said. “I respect anyone who runs hard enough to get that far and have their body not be able to push any further.”
And the respect is mutual.
“I wouldn’t have gotten to the finish line if it wasn’t for (Rob),” Orach said. “I can’t say enough about what an amazing guy he is.”
Samuelson also commended Gomez, not only for his action on race day, but for his intrinsic goodwill the other 364 days of the year.
“Rob really epitomizes the sportsmanship that is so needed in local sports today, and in the world for that matter,” she said. “It’s just Rob being Rob. He should’ve gotten this exposure years ago. Rob has been a constant mentor for rising runners from the state of Maine for quite some time.”
Still, Gomez maintained his humility last week, praising Orach for insisting they split their winnings evenly and for his idea to donate $300 of their combined prize money to this year’s race benefactor, LetsGo!, which promotes healthy lifestyles for young people.
“That’s all Jesse’s idea and I want to make sure he gets appropriate recognition,” Gomez said.
Although Orach said he had not yet been able to resume running, once he does, he looks forward to running alongside Gomez as a new member of Dirigo, Maine’s premiere running club.
“I’ve made a new friend in Jesse and a new teammate,” Gomez said.
“I was kind of thinking of joining Dirigo before this, but after this whole experience I couldn’t think of running with anyone else,” Orach said. “It’s nice to have a support crew behind you … running is a solitary sport if you make it. It can be lonely.”
Beach to Beacon President Mike Stone also joined last week’s ceremony to applaud the two teammates.
“I think everybody would agree that what we all experienced that day between Rob and Jesse is two competitors who finished the race with a lot of pride, dignity, and selflessness,” Stone said.
Rob Gomez with the Beacon Box he received in Freeport Aug. 10 for helping Jesse Orach, right, across the finish line of the 20th annual TD Beach to Beacon 10K. Gomez and Orach were joined at the Thos. Moser Cabinetmakers showroom in Freeport by race founder Joan Benoit Samuelson and race President Mike Stone.