A photographer captured a powerful and inspirational photo of a young runner helping his 82-year-old mentor finish an arduous road race in tough conditions atop Mount Washington.
The Delta Dental Mount Washington Road Race in New Hampshire is a brutal 7.6 mile running race that sees entrants gain 4,650 feet of elevation into Mount Washington’s notoriously bad weather.
Entering the 2023 race on Saturday was John McGinty, 21, and his 82-year-old running mentor Ron Paquette — who had completed the race 40 times before.
McGinty crossed the finishing line and waited almost an hour for Paquette. It was then the young runner realized his coach might be in trouble and set off to find him.
After heading back up the mountain, he found Paquette in a bad way. He had suffered a brain hematoma last fall and was suffering from cramping as well as being freezing cold — The symptoms of hypothermia were setting in.
‘We’re Going to Make It’
Speaking to WMUR, McGinty’s mother Laura Chadwick said that when her son found the veteran runner he was about to give up.
“Ron was saying that he wasn’t going to make it, and John said ‘Yep, we’re going to make it’ And just grabbed him,” she says.
That’s when photographer Joe Viger encountered the pair. He tells PetaPixel that it was approaching the cutoff finish time and there were barely any runners on the road.
“I was standing alone in the fog. Wind was blowing across the road and slanting rain. My camera pointed down to protect the lens and my hand cupped around it,” he says.
“I saw a couple of people coming out of the fog moving slowly. I realized these runners were two men moving together… arms literally wrapped around each other.”
Viger says that he didn’t know who they were but one of the athletes was wearing a medal and wrapped in a blanket so assumed that he had already finished the race and gone back to find his friend.
“I made a few frames of them as they passed. On a day like that, you really need to shoot close to people because of the fog and rain masking the athletes and impacting the focus of the camera,” he says.
“But as they moved up the road, I grabbed a couple more frames of them from behind as they re-entered the fog and they were gone.”
After taking the photo, Viger says he immediately recognized it was an image “people could attribute feeling to” but didn’t think it was special.
“I photograph a lot of mountain and trail running and the image struck me as portraying a lot of themes that endurance sports athletes identify with,” he says.
However, Viger was overwhelmed by the strong response by not just the running communtiy but from people outside of it.
“People were saying it made them cry to see how these two people were connected and the help and caring they had for each other,” he says.
“Comments were that the photo showed a positive message they needed or that they were inspired by it. Then the photograph and the story started to feel special.”
He says the reaction has been “amazing” and a “little surprising” that people have connected to it and found inspiration.
“To me, the photo speaks to perseverance of the human spirit to live, to overcome hardship, and also to achieve,” he says.
“Ron was suffering with hypothermia, but he also was trying to finish the race for the 41st consecutive time.
“The way the two men are connected. Leaning on each other. The younger runner coming to the aid of the mentor, helping him medically but also helping him athletically to keep his race finish streak alive. That was all remarkably giving.”
According to WMUR, Parquette, a Maine hall-of-fame runner, is doing okay and recovering well.
Image credits: All photos by Joe Viger.