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Amid brutal weather on Mount Washington, runner went back down to help mentor finish race

John McGinty (left) helped his running mentor, Ron Paquette, complete the Mount Washington Road Race on June 16. Race photographer Joe Viger captured the moment.JOSEPH VIGER

Before they embarked on the Mount Washington Road Race last Saturday, a group of runners peered up at the sun peeking through the clouds and joked it was the ideal day for a grueling climb. But as the Central Maine Striders kicked off the race, the mountain’s mercurial weather turned nasty, testing even the most seasoned runners on the 7.6-mile race to the summit.

Amid the brutal weather, a remarkable moment of resilience and selflessness was captured in a photo. In the days since, the picture of two runners clutching each other as they endured the final stretch of the course has resonated on social media — and brought more than a few people to tears.

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After enduring whipping winds and horizontal rain that felt like daggers on his skin, John McGinty, 21, crossed the finish line, wrapped a blanket around his shoulders, and waited, shivering, for the rest of the team. But as time ticked by, nearing the three-and-half-hour cutoff for the race, he grew nervous. Ron Paquette, 82, McGinty’s mentor and a legend in the Maine running community, was still out there.

When a slow-moving figure emerged from the fog, his 6-foot-2-inch, 130 pound frame unmistakable, McGinty didn’t hesitate, jogging with tired legs to meet his friend.

Paquette was shaking from the bitter cold and without feeling in his extremities, but he was determined to finish the race for the 40th time. McGinty covered him in the blanket, put his arm around him, and shielded his face from the rain with a large mitten. The two runners clung to each other and pressed on, step by step, against the frigid wind. Visibility was so poor they could hardly see.

“My body was already compromised” when McGinty arrived to help, said Paquette, a Maine Hall of Fame runner known as the state’s “Running Ambassador.” “For me, it was just wonderful. No way to explain that kind of thing where, in your mind and in your heart, you know somebody came and helped you up that way, unselfishly.”

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Joe Viger, 57, a longtime race photographer, was moved by the act of support and snapped a photo.

“Clearly someone had gone down and found someone and helped them back up, so I thought that was really compelling, and it was particularly important to me to get the photo from the back and going up the road,” Viger said. “I just love the lines of that, with the solitary nature of them against the fog. It just told a great story.”

Without knowing either runner or what had transpired, Viger uploaded the photo to Facebook. When the photo reached Laura Chadwick, McGinty’s mother, she was in awe and sent Viger a note. Others were also touched.

“As it got outside the running community, it started to take on different themes that had nothing do with running,” Viger said. “People can be good, and people can help each other, and so it hits a lot of folks that way.”

McGinty met Paquette five years ago when the younger man ran the Mount Washington race for the first time. He admired Paquette even before they spoke about their mutual love of running and was wonderstruck by his adventurous streak and resume of hundreds of marathons.

More than that, “he’s such a down-to-earth, humble guy and just a great friend,” McGinty said.

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They finished at Mount Washington’s summit together to the sound of cheers, and the first few seconds were marked by pure elation. But Paquette was showing signs of hypothermia, violently shaking and appearing confused. He was swathed in blankets and taken inside the nearby visitor center. A man familiar with hypothermia advised that skin-to-skin contact can be especially effective. He took his shirt off and McGinty did the same, and together they gave Paquette a bear hug to raise his body temperature.

In the medical room, Paquette was wrapped in heated blankets. With tears welling in his eyes, he told McGinty’s stepdad, Chris Chadwick, how McGinty had carried him up the mountain.

“I’ll never forget that,” said McGinty, adding that it took about an hour for Paquette to warm up. “There were a couple of moments where I was very afraid. ... I look up to him so much. He’s like another grandpa to me.”

When McGinty and Paquette saw that Viger had captured the moment on the mountain, they were astounded. The response to the photo has been overwhelming, with many people reaching out in recent days.

“The picture shows that you don’t have to do hard things alone,” McGinty said. “There’s a team around you, and people willing to lend a hand.”

Paquette wonders what would have happened to him had McGinty not run to his aid. The photo, he said, will forever serve as a reminder of how McGinty helped him “accomplish something that made it special for both of us.”

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“This means so much to me,” he said.


Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her @shannonlarson98.