In the heat of competition, Alexandra Aucoin showed a moment of compassion.
The Hahnville High School cross country runner was competing at the Class 5A state championship cross country meet on a day of brutal conditions — along with the cold weather making breathing more difficult, after two days of rain the course was muddy, slippery and tough to navigate.
“We all knew we wouldn’t be recording our personal best times,” Aucoin said. “I was just focused on finishing.”
But upon reaching a hill to start the course’s third mile, she saw a fellow runner’s body betray her en route to that goal. Ponchatoula’s Belle Vignes went to the ground in tears, believing she would not be able to finish the race.
Aucoin saw another in distress and put her competitive instincts aside, lifting Vignes to her feet and helping her to the top of the hill, until she knew the latter was alright.
“She collapsed when she got to the bottom of the hill. She had no more energy … honestly none of us did, the course was in bad condition to be running and that’s not something we can really train for,” Aucoin said.
While she was thinking about her finishing time before that, once she saw Vignes fall, that all cleared from her mind.
“I leaned over to help … nothing else went through my mind,” Aucoin said. “I just wanted her to finish.”
Aucoin said the two were neck and neck for most of the race until that point, but that she had noticed Vignes in some pain earlier. The two went on to finish the race together.
“Right when I picked her up, she said, ‘Thank you’ … we didn’t know one another. When we finished, we stood in a little circle and she gave me a big hug,” Aucoin said.
“I leaned over to help…nothing else went through my mind. I just wanted her to finish.” – Alexandra Aucoin
While neither finished on their usual pace, that wasn’t a worry for Aucoin, who said she was just happy to help another person out, especially on a day that was tough for everyone who participated.
“It definitely took a toll on my legs and my body,” she said. “It made breathing a lot harder … you’re pushing through mud and even with spikes, there’s sliding all over the place, worrying about your ankles … the next few days took a toll,” she said.
But when she got to school the very next day, she had — unbeknownst to her — become something of a celebrity. A photo taken of Aucoin helping Vignes was widely shared on social media. Aucoin’s mother, Nicole, said as of Monday, the original post had been shared about 700 times and liked 2,300 times.
“I didn’t know what to say to it, it was pretty overwhelming,” Aucoin said. “To have this go viral and everyone complimenting me and saying how proud they are … I’m just speechless. So many kind things were said that I’m really thankful for.”
Nicole feels great pride in the character her daughter showed.
“Proud almost doesn’t even describe how I feel … she’s an amazing young woman who surprises me every day through her actions and how she carries herself,” Nicole said. “To see her recognized for something good, it sets a great example for younger kids.”
But while she had to get used to the praise and attention — Aucoin describes herself as a quiet girl who usually sits back and observes — the most positive result she found from the experience is a brand new friend in Vignes. Aucoin said the two have kept in touch since the championship meet, estimating they talk about every other day.
“She’s a friend for life,” Aucoin said.