Touched by the spontaneous generosity of a stranger in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, a 25-year-old runner from Cambridge, Mass., turned to Facebook to find her Good Samaritan -- Sitka's Brent Cunningham.
The marathon rules insist only race finishers may collect a race medal, and Laura Wellington was half a mile from the finish line when the two bombs went off Monday and the race was abruptly halted.
A passing stranger -- a marathon participant himself, as it turned out -- saw her sitting on the curb in tears and gave her his medal.
On Tuesday, curious to know who the kindly man was, Wellington put her story on Facebook and it quickly went viral. "I was so in need of a familiar face at that point in time," she wrote, adding she had "slim" hope of finding him. "This couple reassured me that even though such a terrible thing had happened, everything was going to be OK."
Cunningham, 46, had just arrived in Anchorage for a business meeting late Tuesday when he learned Wellington was looking for him. By Wednesday, they had contacted each other on Facebook but had not yet had a chance to talk by phone.
"This is the craziest story," Cunningham told the Toronto Star by telephone. "I never thought we'd connect again. Why would we? How would we?"
Cunningham crossed the finish line about half an hour before Monday's deadly explosions. He got his medal and was making his way back to his hotel with his wife Karin and their 17-year-old daughter Megan when they came across a young woman sobbing. She had a race bib but no medal.
The woman -- they never learned her name -- told them she panicked when she heard of the explosions, knowing her family was at the finish line waiting for her. She had just made contact with them and learned they were safe. She was so overjoyed she sat down and dissolved into tears.
It was cold and windy, and Karin placed a blanket around Wellington for comfort. Brent asked if she had finished the race. She said no.
"Then I just knew what I had to do," he said.
Cunningham took off his medal and slipped it around her neck. Wellington burst into tears, as did his wife.
"I just wanted to let her know she was amazing. I said, 'You're a finisher in my eyes.' That was that," Cunningham said. "She was so emotional she couldn't talk. And I've been emotional about it at least five times since then."
Cunningham, regional director of Alaska Young Life, a Christian outreach ministry for teens, said this was his first Boston Marathon and possibly his last chance for the coveted medal.
He had dreamed for years of running the race, and it took him about two years to qualify. Even then, he qualified by only 90 seconds. However, his time on Monday of 3 hours, 41 minutes was too slow to qualify for a spot in next year's race.
He said he hopes to qualify again "some day" but has no regrets about giving Wellington his medal.
"She needed it more than I needed it," he said. "I just wanted her to know that 'you're worth it.' With everything that has happened, our world is looking for hope. My whole life is about loving God and loving others. That's who I am."
Carol Hughey, an office administrator for Sitka Young Life who has worked with Cunningham for 12 years, said she is not surprised by his gesture.
"He's just a sweetheart," Hughey said. "He is a man who would literally give you the shirt off his back"
By CURTIS RUSH