Story of Triathlete Brothers Alistair and Jonny Brownlee at BYU Commencement
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Pause to Help and Lift a Brother

Some races are worth finishing together.

Alistair Brownlee supports his brother Jonny as they both run towards the finish line.
When Jonny Brownlee (right) became dehydrated and disoriented near the end of the world triathlon championships, his brother Alistair gave up a shot at first place to help Jonny to the finish. Photo by Elizabeth Ruiz / AFP /Getty Images.

As BYU graduates, we have been taught to lift and serve others. I witnessed one such act of service in September 2016 when I flew to Cozumel, Mexico, as a member of Team USA to compete in the ITU Triathlon Age Group World Championships. While I was there, all three medalists from the 2016 Rio Olympic Games competed for the $30,000 grand prize in the men’s elite category. Among them were Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, brothers from Great Britain who had won gold and silver in Rio.

In Cozumel, when the competitors neared the end of the grueling nearly two-hour race, Jonny Brownlee held a comfortable lead with Alistair trailing him and Henri Schoeman from South Africa close behind. Video footage of the race shows that with 500 meters to go, just as Jonny rounded a corner, the heat took its toll on his body. Jonny’s pace slowed to a stumble, and he collapsed onto a volunteer standing by the sidelines.

When Alistair came around the corner, he saw his dangerously dehydrated younger brother unable to finish the race. Without hesitation Alistair ran toward Jonny, threw his dazed brother’s arm around his neck, and half-carried him as they ran the last 500 meters side by side. Alistair’s deviation cost him a chance at the grand prize, allowing Schoeman to win the race.

“Let’s dare to be kind when others run by. Let’s lift those around us without hesitation. “

As the brothers approached the finish line, Alistair pushed Jonny across ahead of him, giving Jonny second place and himself third.

Alistair was half a kilometer from winning gold and becoming the world champion. Yet rather than claim victory for himself, he slowed, picked up his brother, and enabled Jonny to do something he could not do for himself: finish the race. Alistair later told a reporter that “Mum wouldn’t have been happy” if he had left Jonny behind.¹

Just as Alistair’s mother instilled within him a sense of integrity and moral character, our alma mater (or “nourishing mother”), Brigham Young University, taught us how to learn and how to serve.

As we run the race of life, there will most likely be times when we too will be forced to make the decision between helping someone else or getting ahead. Our brother or sister may not literally drop down in front of us, but there will be, and certainly are right now, people in our lives who feel like they are falling down within.

Just as Alistair sacrificed to stop and help his brother, we can—and should—make sacrifices in our own lives to help those who are struggling along the way. Our diplomas can serve as a reminder that “unto whom much is given much is required” (D&C 82:3), because some races are simply worth finishing together.

As we go forth into the world, searching for purpose in our careers and our families, let us remember these poignant words of Charles Dickens: “No one is useless in this world . . . who lightens the burden of it for any one else.”²

So let’s not leave Jonny behind. Let’s dare to be kind when others run by. Let’s lift those around us without hesitation. If we do so, we will cross the finish line together and make our “mum” proud.

Thomas Stone smiles to the camera.

This essay is adapted from a BYU commencement address given on April 27, 2017, by Thomas Stone, who spoke as the representative of his graduating class.

1. Eleanor Steafel, “Alistair Brownlee: ‘Mum Wouldn’t Have Been Happy If I’d Left Jonny Behind,’” Telegraph, Sept. 24, 2016.

2. Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend (1864–65), book 3, chapter 9.