Click here to read Joel Ostdiek's essay about Boys Town runner Roger Lame spurring him on at the state cross-country meet.
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Don't judge others, an American Indian proverb says, until you've walked a mile in their moccasins.
A Boys Town student who belongs to the Sioux Tribe wore running shoes, not moccasins. He could see up ahead that a cross-country runner from another school was fading.
He didn't judge him — he caught him and encouraged him.
“Run with me,” Roger Lame said between breaths to the slowing runner, Joel Ostdiek of Columbus Scotus. “Do this for your team.”
The pair surged, reaching the finish line at the state meet almost together, placing 12th and 13th. The inspiration and second wind provided by Roger helped Joel finish just high enough that his Class C school won its first state cross-country title.
Said Joel: “That was the greatest act of sportsmanship I've ever witnessed.”
It happened last fall and would have remained private except that Joel wrote this spring to Boys Town to let school officials know what Roger had done. The two had never met until the final minutes of that race.
In applying to colleges since then, Joel submitted an essay about his encounter with Roger.
Joel, who made The World-Herald's nine-member all-state academic first team, applied to some of the top universities in the land. He graduated first in his class of 65 at Scotus and scored a 35 out of a possible 36 on his ACT exam.
He sang the lead role in school musicals and plays piano, violin and trumpet. He was drum major in the marching band. Last summer he attended the weeklong Broadway Dreams camp at the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha.
His parents are Duane and Kim Ostdiek — respectively, a mechanical engineer and an English teacher.
Joel applied to Harvard, he quipped, because he thought “it would be cool to have a rejection letter from there.” But Harvard awarded him a coveted spot in this fall's freshman class — which he turned down in “the toughest decision I've ever had to make.”
He plans to attend Notre Dame. But if Yale calls, he said, he'd have to consider it.
No one in Roger Lame's family has attended college — after graduating next year, he said, he intends to be the first.
He grew up in Chadron in the beautiful Pine Ridge country of northwest Nebraska. He arrived in Omaha at the famed home for youths three years ago for what he called a combination of reasons: “Family problems, school stuff, court problems.”
Boys Town has been good for him, he said, and he has grown in many ways.
Nichole Ball and husband Nate live with Roger and other boys on campus. She agrees that he has made great strides.
“We are blessed to have him,” she said. “Roger is just a really sweet kid. He cares a lot about people around him, and I've never heard him say a bad word about anybody. He is working so hard.”
When she learned this spring what he did for the Columbus Scotus runner, she said, she got teary-eyed.
“I was so proud of him,” Nichole said. “But I was not shocked at all. He does encourage people. That's who we know him to be.”
On Friday, Roger recalled how the state cross-country meet in Kearney unfolded. Boys Town was not in contention to win as a team; he himself was moving up in hopes of receiving a medal, which go to the top 15 individual runners.
In team scoring, the first four runners from each school count. One point for first place, two for second, and so on. Low score wins.
He could see that Scotus had three guys near the front, and that the fourth runner was dropping back. So it was just natural, he said, to try to spur him on in the last half-mile of the 5K (3.1-mile) race.
Joel recalls runners passing him on the left and right.
“Then this Boys Town kid who I didn't know came up,” he said, “and instead of blowing past me like the other guys, he's talking to me. I don't know how, because you could hardly breathe. But I just ran with him and pushed it, and it was enough to get me through the finish line.”
Had he finished 1.3 seconds slower, Joel said, his team would not have won the championship. On the medal stand, he shook Roger's hand but didn't get a chance to say how much his actions had meant.
Months later, during track season on May 5 — after Joel had written to Boys Town — Joel and Roger met up again at the start of a mile race in David City. They smiled and gave a quick hug, waiting for the sound of the starter's pistol.
Roger pretty much left Joel in his dust. “He beat me by quite a bit,” Joel said with a chuckle. “It was a good race for him, a bad race for me.”
Joel said that in the years ahead, whenever he looks at his cross-country medal or thinks of his team's championship, he'll recall the camaraderie and friendship epitomized by a competitor he hadn't even met, Roger Lame of Boys Town.
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