Some acts of leadership are so powerful they are worth remembering and retelling. Take a college softball game contested more than a decade ago, when the Central Washington women’s softball team faced Western Oregon for a chance to make the playoffs.
With the game on the line and two runners on base, Western Oregon’s Sara Tucholsky did something she had never done before, in high school or in college: she hit her first home run. Right over the centerfield fence.
The jubilant Tucholsky was so excited that she missed tagging first base. As she turned to correct the mistake, her knee buckled and she collapsed on the field. A torn ACL. She crawled back to first base but couldn’t stand, walk or run any further.
The first base coach warned her Western Oregon teammates that the rules prevented them from helping her and, if she couldn’t round the bases, she would be called out.
And it is here we find the moment when real leadership manifested in an act of unbelievable sportsmanship. Two Central Washington players stunned everyone in the crowd — and all of college softball — by carrying their fallen opponent around the bases. An act that eliminated their own team from the playoffs.
As the trio reached home base, the entire Western Oregon team was in tears. No one could fully grasp what had happened, but everyone knew they had witnessed something extraordinary.
Sara Tucholsky inspired others for years afterward by suggesting that if you keep doing the right things in life, you will be rewarded at the moment you most need help.
Perhaps, the biggest lesson in this simple act of selflessness and character is to remember why we play competitive sports to begin with.