For Holland Reynolds, there was never a question of whether she would cross the finish line at the California Division 5 girls cross-country state championship race. It was everyone else who began to doubt she could make it when she collapsed in agony just feet short of the final timing mat.
Yet, as outlined in detail in a New York Times article, any pain the senior runner felt couldn't keep her from finishing, not with a state title for her team on the line. Not with the team dedicating their race to a coach battling the late stages of ALS; Lou Gehrig's Disease.
"I was going to make my move," Reynolds told the New York Times, "but for some reason my legs just gave out. I was confused, and I started to slow down."
What hit Reynolds -- one of the most decorated runners for San Francisco University High School's girls cross-country team -- was one of the worst cases of hitting the wall imaginable. As you can see at the 19:30 mark of this video, instead of hitting her stride, Reynolds began to walk steeply hunched as she hit the homestretch. Then, just as it appeared she would make it to the line after all, Reynolds collapsed altogether. If you want to see the full, excruciating but powerful series of photos, just keep reading. We have them thanks to the Runners Space video at the end of this piece.
Here's how Reynolds' coach, Jim Tracy, described the final stages of his senior star's run.
"I thought, ‘This isn't right,'" he said. "‘Holland should be here already.'"
Tracy, who wears braces on his legs and his back and walks with difficulty, made his way to the course and found Reynolds, half a mile out, barely running and weaving across the course.
"She usually runs with a slightly bent upper torso," Tracy said. "But this had twisted her over even more. It looked like she was barely able to keep herself stabilized. It was a grisly sight."
Tracy said Reynolds looked at him out of the corner of her eye.
"But her vision was locked on her goal," he said. "I'd never seen anything like it. It was like a mask of determination. I've seen that so many times when she's in front, but this time she was getting buried. People were flying past her."
Though it took more than 20 seconds for Reynolds to cross the final two yards, the important thing was that she made it. By crossing the line when she did -- thanks in part to the help of a race official, who walked over to check on her and then encouraged her to make it to the mat -- Reynolds ensured that University High won the Division 5 girls team title, the school's eighth state title, which is more than any other school in California history.
She had to be placed in an ambulance immediately after finishing, but Reynolds didn't miss out on the celebration, either. Within an hour of the end of the race, the senior's teammates presented her with her medal in the ambulance itself. She made it home later that night, and has completed a full recovery since.
That might be more than can be said for any of those who watched Reynolds crawl across the finish, with her determination leaving a lingering effect on all who were there.
"I was encouraging her," Brian Weaver, the race official who was first to reach Reynolds near the finish line, told the New York Times. "I said, ‘You can do this.' She was nodding her head and crawling, and I was saying, ‘Nice and easy, don't force it.'
"I would have picked her up and carried her straight to the ambulance, but she was able to make eye contact with me. Her body was tired, but she was mentally all there."
As promised, here's a shot-by-shot sequence of Reynolds' heroic finish, unaltered in any way.