A shepherd in northwest China is widely praised for rescuing six exhausted runners. The runners were participating in an ultramarathon race in Gansu Province when a savage weather event suddenly overcame them on May 22. The tragic mountain race ended up with 21 athletes confirmed dead.

CNN citing China National Radio, reported the race began in the north-western province of Gansu.

Zhu Keming, the shepherd, was grazing his sheep around lunchtime near the high-altitude Huanghe Shilin Mountain, which hosted the running trail, as the weather abruptly turned sour.

“The weather that day was really uncommon. It was foggy and raining and windy and sometimes hailing. That kind of weather is really rare,” Zhu told the local radio.

The dramatic temperature drop urged him to seek sanctuary in a cave near the running track where he had stashed some firewood, food, and clothes. As he was sitting securely inside, Zhu spotted a runner standing stiff, apparently suffering physical shock due to the harsh weather.

“I asked him, ‘How are you doing? Can you still run?’ His speed was pretty slow, and he was rubbing his legs with his hands. He said he couldn’t run anymore because of muscle cramp,” Zhu detailed the moment. “So I said, ‘Come warm up in the cave.'”

As Zhu welcomed the man into his cave and gave him some essential care, four other competitors found the shelter and joined him. They told him that there were many others disoriented outside. So he ventured back into the challenging weather and found a sixth victim lying on the trail.

“I want to say how grateful I am to the man who saved me,” said Zhang Xiaotao, the runner whom Zhu carried back to his cave. “Without him, I would have been left out there.”

Zhu was praised in the media for his valiant act, but the shepherd humbly said what he did was an “ordinary thing” and that he was just “an ordinary person,” adding that he wished he could have been able to save more lives.

“There were still some people that could not be saved,” he said. “There were two men who were lifeless and I couldn’t do anything for them. I’m sorry.”

The fierce strike from the weather left 21 lives lost. Two of them were national athletes. In footage of the race, competitors can be seen dressed comfortably in sports suits without any other means of protection to fend off the effects of low temperature.

The administrators of the marathon were also slammed for their careless operation, which neglected to take into account local weather forecasts to prepare the athletes for inclement weather and hold a safer event.

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