FREEPORT — The feel-good story that has brought a whirlwind of attention to distance runners Rob Gomez and Jesse Orach – and the TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K road race – got another boost Thursday.

Gomez was presented with a “winner’s” trophy – a handmade keepsake box – by race founder Joan Benoit Samuelson. The Beacon Box, given to the race’s top divisional winners, will commemorate Gomez selflessly assisting Orach across the finish line on Saturday, ensuring Orach of his second straight Maine men’s division win – at Gomez’s expense.

“This is perhaps one of the most inspirational stories, if not the most inspirational story, that the Beach to Beacon has told to date, and it happened at the finish line,” said Samuelson. “It was Rob being Rob. He has contributed to the sport in myriad ways for so many years. The runners who have had the opportunity to train with Rob and to get to know Rob know about this but the outside world doesn’t and now they do. I mean this is truly Rob being Rob.”

Gomez and Samuelson were joined in the ceremony by Orach, Beach to Beacon President Mike Stone and Steve Wyman, the manager of the Thos. Moser furniture store in Freeport.

Since 2014, Thos. Moser has made special Beacon Boxes, engraved with the Beach to Beacon logo, in its Auburn facility for the winners in the Elite, American and Maine runner categories. Each year an extra box is made for Beach to Beacon, “just in case,” Wyman said.

Paul Gori, the company’s director of business development and a Beach to Beacon runner, first recognized that the extra box should be presented to Gomez.

While Gomez, a 34-year-old Windham resident, has gotten the lion’s share of the praise, Orach, 23, of Gorham, continued to show his own quiet, respectful manner on Thursday, retelling how he fell twice as he neared the finish area, and then felt Gomez hoist him to his feet.

“He said something like, ‘you’re going to finish this,’” Orach said. “I wouldn’t have gotten to the finish line without him. He’s an amazing guy and he deserves all the recognition that he’s gotten.”

Gomez said he’s benefited, too. He and Orach previously did not know each other, though both knew of the other’s exploits. Orach was the top Maine finisher in the 2016 race and finished his University of Maine career as an academic All-American; Gomez has been among Maine’s best for a decade and won the Maine Marathon in 2013.

“Now I have a new friend and a new Dirigo (running club) teammate,” Gomez said.

Gomez praised Orach for insisting that the pair split their two checks evenly. Orach won $1,000 for finishing first and Gomez received $500 for placing second. They have also agreed to donate $300 of their combined earnings to Let’s Go!, this year’s designated Beach to Beacon charitable group, which promotes healthy eating and activity in young people.

Both Gomez and Orach said the last few days have been a “whirlwind,” as they’ve fielded numerous media requests, including a segment on the Today show. Orach said it was a bit odd to see former professional wrestler and current Today host John Cena talking about him.

“I used to watch him on wrestling when I was a kid,” Orach laughed.

Gomez said the “funniest thing” he’s encountered was a Facebook post this morning.

“It was from somebody in Russia and they said, ‘see, you’re even popular here in Russia,’” Gomez said. “I think there’s just a lot of people hungry for positive news. I think this story hits home because it’s an indication that there’s still good in the world.”

Steve Craig can be reached at 791-6413 or at:

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