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Shepherd saves six stricken runners

By CHENG SI in Beijing and MA JINGNA in Lanzhou | China Daily | Updated: 2021-05-25 07:27

Zhu Keming used his cave dwelling to shelter marathoners who were in distress. WANG PENG/FOR CHINA DAILY

Zhu Keming never thought he would be a hero one day, but he was just that on Saturday when he saved the lives of six runners during the ill-fated mountain ultramarathon in Baiyin, Gansu province, that claimed 21 lives.

It started off as a normal day for the 49-year-old shepherd, who was tending his flock of more than 30 sheep on the mountainside. All he knew about the ultramarathon was that a busy sports activity was being held nearby, and he planned to take a look.

"The weather was terrible, with rainfall and hail. I remember that the rain got so heavy that I couldn't see clearly and had to shelter in a cave where I normally go to have a nap," he said in an interview with The Beijing News.

"It was freezing, despite the fact that I was wearing a coat," said Zhu, who soon fell asleep in the cave after wrapping himself up in some blankets he had stored there.

But he was awakened from his nap at 2 pm by an unusual sound that was not coming from his flock of sheep. The sound that roused Zhu was the cry of a participant in the ultramarathon. He was soaked to the skin and suffering from leg cramps.

Zhu took the man into the cave and massaged his leg for a while. The shepherd then lit a fire and wrapped the stricken runner in his blankets.

Zhu recalled that, shortly afterward, a man and a woman passed by the cave, and they were shivering with cold. "I told them to warm themselves up in the cave, but they initially rejected my invitation, as maybe they didn't know that a fellow runner was already in the cave," he said.

"I told them the other runner was in the cave. One of them came to the cave while the other continued running, but returned soon," he said. "They huddled together, shivering with cold and warming themselves near the fire."

Zhu said that there were soon five runners huddling in the cave, and he then decided to go outside to try to attract the attention of rescuers.

When he ventured out of the cave, he found another stricken runner lying on the ground amid the driving rain and relentless hail.

"He was in bad condition, but he was still conscious. I planned to carry him to the cave but couldn't manage it. Then the other runners came out of the cave to lend me a hand," Zhu said.

Zhu and the six runners remained huddled around the fire in his cave until 7 pm, when the rescue team arrived.

"I just did what I had to when I saw that these people were in danger. I don't think anyone would do otherwise in such a situation," Zhu said.

Luo Chongchuan, the village head of Changsheng, where Zhu and his family live, said that the shepherd is a warmhearted person who often helps his fellow villagers.

"About 60 local residents helped the rescue team find the runners when we were alerted to the situation at around 3 pm on Saturday," he said.

"We, and especially shepherds such as Zhu, are better acquainted with the lay of the land in the local area and offered help to the professional rescue team."

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