There are victories when you cross a finish line first. Then there are Victories with a capital ‘V’.
Wilton High School junior Davis Cote had one such Victory in the FCIAC Cross Country Championships on Tuesday, Oct. 15, when he performed a selfless act of true sportsmanship that is winning the young man accolades across Fairfield County. In the final stretch of the championship race, Cote came to the aide of a competitor in medical distress, sacrificing his own race result to help a fellow runner in trouble.
“I wasn’t having a great race myself. I was trudging along getting towards the end. At the FCIAC championship course at Waveny Park in New Canaan, the final straightaway is packed with fans. You get a quick burst of adrenaline and I was starting to feel a little bit better. Then, right as I was approaching the finish line, I saw a runner who was stumbling along and didn’t look like he was just tired. I could tell that he was out of it,” Davis describes.
That runner was Aidan Byrne, a senior captain of Danbury High School‘s cross country team.
“I was just hoping that he was going to cross the line,” Davis continues. “Running is such a communal sport. You know how much effort everyone puts into it, you know what it takes to have a great race and be successful. When I saw him about to collapse, I was just like, ‘Oh, please just get across the line.’ He eventually fell kind of next to me. I don’t know, just spur of the moment, I didn’t really think much about it, I just saw him fall and thought, ‘I need to help him get up and cross the finish line. He deserves to finish.’ As I got closer, I saw that he was on Danbury and I was like, ‘Oh, they have an amazing program, amazing coach. I know he was probably doing amazing before this.’ It turned out he was, apparently he was in 12th place or something, which would have gotten him All-FCIAC First Team, right before the finish.”
He didn’t say anything to Aidan, he didn’t think twice. Davis just picked him up, and carried him the final 20 yards and across the finish line.
“It’s hard to remember because as you’re so close to the finish line, there’s not much going through your head except just finish, get through the line. Mentally you’re out of it, you’re tired. Physically, you’re tired, you’re exerted. I don’t think I said anything. I just picked him up, put him over my shoulder, got an arm underneath him and brought him to the finish line,” he says.
The drama was clear to spectators. Afterward a parent of a Danbury teammate sent a letter to WHS principal Bob O’Donnell, making sure they heard of Davis’ gesture.
“We had a runner that was in having difficulty, normally our #3 runner, and he collapsed several times in the last 500 yards of the race, but continued to get up and struggle to the finish line. Other athletes were calling attention to him, letting spectators know that he needed help. It was heart wrenching. When one of your athletes saw him in distress, he himself within yards of the finish line, turned around and came back for our athlete, helping him go across the finish line together. I don’t know the young man’s name, but wanted to make sure he was recognized for his extraordinary sportsmanship, and absolute class act. You should be proud of this young man and recognize him,” she wrote.
O’Donnell was very proud, of course.
“Our Wilton school community is very proud of Davis’ altruism and his genuine act of sportsmanship,” the WHS principal said. “This is an action that demonstrates that it does not always matter which uniform you wear, but that all of our student athletes are human beings trying to have a positive experience and learn. Davis is a kind, humble student who felt that he was just doing the right thing under the circumstances. He has also been in touch with the student after the event to ensure that he makes a good recovery. His follow up further demonstrates genuine caring for the other student athlete.”
Full disclosure, I’ve known Davis and his family for several years. It’s no surprise to anyone who knows Davis that he wouldn’t have done anything but extend himself to help another person.
It’s an actual motto that he lives by, one he’s learned every summer at a camp that’s very important to all three of the Cote kids.
“What they say is, ‘God first, the other fellow second, myself last.’ I don’t really take to heart the first part, I’m not the most religious person. But definitely the second part where it says, ‘The other fellow second.’ For me, ‘The other fellow first and then myself last.’ I think I try and live by that. Everyone at the camp lives by that and thrives from it,” Davis explains.
The FCIAC celebrated Davis in a post on its own website, noting that Davis’ actions should serve as a model to all of its athletes, and the story likely will be told again and again to reinforce a code of conduct the league would like everyone to live by: “The FCIAC has worked to improve sportsmanship for all the teams competing in the league and now it can add to its sportsmanship conference the picture of Davis and Aidan crossing the finish line and tell the story above to all future athletes.”
Davis has heard from many of his peers, friends of his brother and sister, teachers, and his parents friends. “Tons of people reached out to me over text. I wasn’t expecting it to be that publicized or anything. I didn’t really think it was anything crazy that I did. Seeing the response, I’m glad that people are seeing, it’s spreading a positive mentality, or positive feeling throughout the community. So many people have said things to me that I’ve never really even thought about, and just saying how that’s what they hope everyone would do.”
Davis’ parents, Meppy and Dave Cote, are understandably proud of their son’s actions.
“You always love hearing and seeing things about your kids. I won’t say it’s expected, but it definitely didn’t surprise me that it was Davis who did that,” says Dave, who in his own selfless way, gives equal credit to his in-laws Steve and Betsy Pettit, who also live in Wilton, for “helping us raise good kids.” (Clearly, the apples don’t fall far from the trees in this family.)
Even at the championships, after the race, when Danbury parents and coaches kept coming up to him, thanking him for what he did, he reflected on how natural a thing it was for him to do. “I kept thinking to myself, though, I didn’t really think it was anything extraordinary that I did. I didn’t think it was anything too crazy, you know? It was just someone helping someone else, something that everyone should be doing all the time.”
As for Aidan, he’s doing fine after receiving medical attention and reportedly spending a night in the hospital.
“He actually reached out to me over Instagram and was so appreciative, very, very nice,” says Davis.
Update: WHS Principal Bob O’Donnell