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Olympic Hopeful Rebecca Mehra’s Random Act Of Kindness


Rebecca Mehra is a professional track athlete for Oiselle who currently competes in the 800m and 1500m. An All-American at Stanford, she now lives and trains in Bend, Oregon. Her story about shopping for an elderly couple who were scared to enter the grocery store in light of the coronavirus went viral over the weekend, leading to interviews on CNN and Fox News. Below, Mehra recounts her act of kindness and reflects on the impact of coronavirus on both her professional career and personal life. 

Can you walk us through what happened in that grocery store’s parking lot? 

After practice on Wednesday, I went to the grocery store to pick up some basic supplies and some food for dinner. As I was walking in, I heard, off to the side, a woman, yelling, “Hey, hey!” I had this moment of immediate apprehension, because it’s someone yelling at me from their car. But when I look, I see it’s this old woman waving at me. So I walk over, and she says, “I’m wondering if you can help me with something?” I say, sure. She goes, “My husband and I have been waiting here for a while. The first case of the Coronavirus just hit town, and we’re nervous to go to the grocery store. We know that the virus is disproportionately affecting older people, and it could be deadly for us, so we’re scared to go inside.”

What were your first thoughts when she said that?

I was just taken aback. I mean, during these crazy times, you think so much about yourself and your own situation. All my track meets are being canceled and my gym isn’t open. Those kinds of things affect my everyday life, but I’ve never been nervous to go into a grocery store or just to go outside because I’m afraid of being exposed to this virus. Of course, I don’t want to get sick, but I’ve never felt like my life has been threatened by this. So hearing her say that forced me to realize that there are people for whom this situation is just a lot more dire than it is for me. It’s nuts, honestly. In the moment, I was so surprised, I couldn’t say anything. But then as soon as she asked me if I would mind getting groceries for her, I said sure.

What happened then?

She had her window kind partially rolled down, just enough to slip me a handwritten little grocery list and a hundred dollar bill. So I go in and get their groceries. When I come back, they pop the trunk and I just put the groceries in there and then hand her back her change. I told her to have a great day, and she thanked me.  As I left, I didn’t think anything of it. But as soon as I got home I immediately regretted not giving them my phone number in case they needed help again.

What led you to share your story online? 

I didn’t really think much of it till I went home and typed out what had happened. I sent it to my boyfriend, Jordan, and he said I had to tweet that. We went back and forth, because I don’t really like Twitter. But I decided it may be worth it to share what happened, so I edited what I wrote him and posted it to Twitter. I usually just post about running, and immediately I could tell this was getting more attention. And as I kept checking it, the numbers just kept going up and up. I thought it was crazy when I went to bed and there were a few thousand likes. And then I woke up, and there’s over 10,000 retweets. Jordan and I realize, this is seriously viral. And the numbers just kept growing from there.

Why do you think so many people were inspired to share your story? 

I think that it resonated with people so much because this is such a hard time for everyone in so many different ways, and we’re all seeing the terrible news everyday. This was a small bit of light in a very dark time. I also think it made a lot of people come to the same realization that I had, that there are people in worse situations than me who I need to help. Ultimately, it’s a reflection of society at the moment. Everyone in the country is affected by what’s going on, which is why I think it hit home.

This must be such a strange time to have a tweet go viral. Obviously, you’re dealing with the impact of the virus on your career and your life, and then next thing you know you’re being interviewed on CNN. 

It’s a super weird dichotomy. One of my best friends is supposed to get married next weekend, and her wedding just got canceled. Three of my family members in Switzerland might very well have coronavirus. They haven’t been tested or diagnosed, but they have all the symptoms. So this is hitting home in a lot of ways, and then to have this weird viral fame for doing something that I think most good people would do anyways… it’s just such a strange and stressful time. At the very least, I’m glad that my story has provided people either some hope or some inspiration to be kind and help each other.

How has the virus impacted your own training and near future? 

I’m watching races just disappear from the calendar one after another. Every single event. Track season was supposed to start in April, and none of the meets are going to happen anymore. May is totally in limbo. There haven’t been any announcements yet on the Olympic trials, which are supposed to be in mid-June. I don’t know what will happen if either those or the Olympics gets cancelled. It’s hard to comprehend the possibility that you work all year for this one thing, and that it could just be completely taken away. I think we’re all just really scared and upset.

How are you managing your mindset given all the uncertainty? 

You have to find the normal in the abnormal. Not knowing what my season is going to look like, after I had it meticulously planned out, is all super uncomfortable. I was supposed to go to Europe and run these really cool races, with one in Italy, and now there’s no chance that’s happening. But that’s the reality for all of us. Our future is going to look a lot different than any of us expected. My hope is that the trials won’t get canceled, so there’ll still be something to be out there competing for. If there are any other races, they’ll be with tiny fields and no spectators. It is what it is. You just have to keep going and carry on.

Have you let yourself consider the possibility of the Olympics being cancelled or postponed, or is that just too far down the line? 

I don’t know what’s going to happen if the Olympics are canceled or postponed. It’s so unprecedented. It’s hard for me to make any guesses. I know this is going to keep getting worse for a few weeks, and then hopefully it’ll start getting better by the time we hit mid-to-late April. And maybe that will give us the opportunity to act safely and have some track competitions. But of course, it’s safety first.