By Mike Bush
KSDK (St. Paris, OH)-
Every runner knows that you don't win races with your legs, you win them with your heart.
"Running really isn't a lot of fun, it's a lot of pain, " laughs 18 year old Meghan Vogel.
On this day, dozens of runners have descended on St. Paris, Ohio for the Graham Invitational Cross Country meet. Track and Cross country are sports that some take for granted but here in Champaign county, they take notice.
"Back in the 1970's, starting in '76 our high school boys had four consecutive state titles so it just became a big sport in our community, " explains Ann Vogel.
Ann Vogel is the head women's track and cross country coach at West Liberty/Salem high school, the top ranked team in the area. They also have the top ranked runner.
Meghan has been running for as long as she can remember.
"Well my mom has been coaching for 20 years, " she explains, "and I went to my first cross country meet when I was four weeks old."
At the Graham Invitational, Meghan not only started in front, she finished that way, covering the 3.1 mile course in a personal best time of 18:46. But winning is nothing new for Meghan Vogel.
Jesse Owens Stadium on the campus of the Ohio State University was the site of the 2012 Ohio High School State Track Championships.
Though just a junior, Vogel was one of the top seeds in the 1600 meters.
"My junior year, that's when things started clicking for me, " Meghan explained.
Meghan was in third place going into the last lap.
"And out of the three girls she was running with she looked the most relaxed and most ready to make her move when she needed to, " remembers Ann.
"And then with 300 meters to go on the last lap, I just kind of kicked it in, " says Meghan.
At the right time, in the right place she ran her personal best. 4 minutes and 58 seconds and Meghan Vogel was a state champion.
"I couldn't stop crying when I crossed the line, " she says. "I mean to finally achieve something that you've been working for basically your whole life, it's just unexplainable."
"And we just hugged, says her mom, "and shed quite a few tears and it was just a special moment."
By winning that race, Meghan became the first girl from her high school to win a state title in more than 20 years. But when people talk about that day, they don't talk about the race where Meghan finished first, they talk about the race where Meghan finished last.
Just 25 minutes after collecting the trophy for the 1600 meters, she had to collect herself and get ready for the 3200.
"That's what's pretty tough about between the two races, " says Meghan.
Among her opponents in that event was a promising 16 year old from Findlay, Ohio named Arden McMath.
"We saw her coming up in junior high and thought, hey we might have something here, " explained her high school track coach P.D. Hunter.
Though just a sophomore McMath started accumulating ribbons and trophies as a freshman at Arlington High School.
"I trained a lot more. I started running every day, " said McMath.
"She's disciplined, motivated and perfectionistic, "explains her mom.
When their race began, Vogel and McMath had never met. By the time it was over, they were linked forever.
For the first half of their two mile run, both runners were right in the thick of things but soon they started to fall behind.
"It was a lot quicker than I usually go so I definitely wasn't used to it, " recalled McMath.
"So I kind of looked at my mom and I shook my head and said this is not going to be a very good race, " remembers Meghan.
At this point, Arden's only goal was to finish the race and then the unthinkable happened.
She pushed herself so hard, she just collapsed. She went down, got up. Then she went down again and it all happened right in front of Meghan Vogel.
" I had 100 meters to go to the finish line on my last lap and I noticed Arden had fallen in front of me, " recalled Vogel.
In her entire life, according to her mom, Vogel had never finished last and she could have kept on going. She could have but she didn't.
"She just all of a sudden was there and I didn't know what was going on at first and once I realized I was pretty amazed. I didn't expect that definitely, ' says McMath.
Instead of running past her, Vogel ran to her. Helping McMath to her feet and then with her last ounce of strength carried her the final 30 meters across the finish line making sure that McMath finished ahead of her.
"I got her across the line and shoved her a little bit and put her arm back around my shoulders, " says Vogel.
As it turned out, Meghan not only lifted Arden McMath that day, she lifted everyone who saw it happen.
"People just started coming up to me and it was kind of overwhelming and it was like it wasn't that big a deal, " laughs Vogel.
"I was in tears and I still if I talk about it too much I get emotional about it, " says Tracy McMath, Arden's mom. "It was just a beautiful thing."
After about an hour in the training room McMath finally felt a little better and a little embarrassed but upon reflection she was happy to be a part of an inspiring story.
"I think it was a really good thing, " said McMath. "She definitely showed a lot of people what high school sports is all about."
Meghan Vogel is hoping to go back to Ohio State next spring but she won't need another state title to prove she is a champion.
There are different paths to every finish line and some leave a trail. To everyone who saw what she did that day, Meghan Vogel will be remembered as the runner who was a winner even when she finished last.
"I'm very proud of her, " says her mom. "Always am.