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The Brownlee Brothers’ Incredible Triathlon Finish

September 20, 2016 | by Rabbi Pinchas Hackenbroch

And a lesson from the sounding of the Shofar.

Undoubtedly one of the highlights of Rio Olympics was the Triathlon event which was dominated by two brothers from Yorkshire in England, Alistair Brownlee who won the event and his brother Jonny who was silver medallist. This week they competed in the Triathlon World series in Mexico – a gruelling 1.5km swim, followed by a 40km cycle and finally a 10km run all under the most hot and humid conditions. The event made headlines due to the unprecedented manner in which they completed the race.

With 700m to the finish line, disaster struck Jonny who was on the verge of winning the race. He was totally dehydrated due to the intensity of the 33 degree heat and suffering from exhaustion. His legs started to wobble and it became clear he simply couldn’t carry on any further.

As his brother Alistair and other runners were catching up to him, Jonny was frozen to the spot; his legs would not move. Alistair was faced with a moral dilemma that he had to make in a split decision. Should he pass his struggling brother, continue to race to the finish line and thereby win the race (medical staff were on hand to assist his brother) or give up on his personal ambition and help his brother finish the race?

Despite training and preparing for the last year to win and being intensely competitive, it wasn’t a question in Alistair’s mind as he recounted later. He put his brother’s arm around his neck and arm- in-arm he carried his brother over the finish line, enabling them to finish second and third respectively. The cameras and the world’s media clambered around them as they collapsed to the ground ignoring the new champion.

This was completely unprecedented; there was even an unsuccessful appeal to have Jonny disqualified for having an unfair advantage at being helped by his brother.


Reflecting from his hospital bed after the race, Jonny Brownlee said, "Alistair had the chance to win but threw that away to help me out. I'll be thankful for the rest of my life. Obviously it takes a very strong and good person to do that. Sometimes in sport we talk about winning being the most important thing in the world. A lot of times it is, but maybe helping a brother out was more important."

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, it is a welcome opportunity for reflection and introspection on the lives we lead. The Tekiah sound, that long blast of the Shofar, symbolizes that drive and ambition to achieve and accomplish our goals and dreams. But the blast is punctured by the Teruah that sounds like broken crying, symbolizing the cry for help and assistance from others.

It is crucial for us to consider whether we have struck the right balance in our lives, the balance between the Tekiah and Teruah, between focusing on self-achievement and stopping along that path of personal ambition to assist others and respond to their cry for help. Ensuring that we are driven to achieve and grow spiritually in the year in addition to giving a helping hand to others will ensure as a nation we are all winners this coming new year.

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