Editor’s note: Louisville Metro Police Maj. Aubrey Gregory was shot in the hip by an assailant Sept. 22 while on duty in Downtown Louisville during protests following the grand jury indictments related to the shooting death of Breonna Taylor. This story about Gregory, who was released from the hospital the day after being shot, originally appeared in the April 9, 2015, edition of The Southeast Outlook.
What happened on Saturday, March 21, 2015, at the Rodes City Run captured the attention of the nation. In the end, it wasn’t the winners of the 6.2-mile race or the drama of 7,500 runners on Louisville city streets. It was a Facebook photo of Louisville Metro Police Department Lt. Aubrey Gregory, a member of Southeast Christian Church, helping weary competitor Asia Ford cross the finish line.
Ford, 35, was in last place in the Rodes City Run, near the three-mile mark when Gregory noticed her laboring.
As the police department’s commander for the race, he was responsible for the department’s organization, staffing and execution during the event.
He arrived early, made sure the race route was secure, then rode in an unmarked car with his partner behind the last runners, just in case any struggled.
“If there are any medical problems, they usually happen at the back of the race,” Gregory said. “We look for twisted ankles, breathing problems and those who are laboring.”
There was much about Ford that he didn’t know as he watched her inch toward the finish line. The Rodes City Run was one leg of her life journey.
Her husband lost a leg due to diabetes, and she had lost more than 200 pounds in an attempt to get healthy for her three children.
At the four-mile mark, a worried Gregory got out of the patrol car and approached Ford.
“Asia had slowed down, and I was worried that she was having breathing problems,” he said.
He called for the ambulance, but Ford refused to quit. She told Gregory she had two more miles to go and continued down the course.
Gregory continued to keep an eye on her from the patrol car.
When she slowed down again and Gregory got out of the car, Ford grabbed his hand.
Gregory asked Ford if they were going to stop. She said “No.”
“OK, we’ll do it together,” he said as he took Ford’s arm.
Gregory, Ford and her son talked as they walked.
“Sometimes your heart tells you what you want, but your brain says no you can’t,” Gregory said. “She told me about her husband’s diabetes, how they had to amputate his leg and how he had to go on dialysis. I told her that my son is a Type 1 diabetic, so we shared our experiences.”
As they neared the finish line they could hear the crowd cheering for Ford.
“Just before she stepped over the line I cut her loose so she could finish on her own,” Gregory said. “My heart just swelled up. She crossed the finish line, put up her hands and hugged her son and her friends and then went back to hug me. It was a moment I’ll never forget.”
Gregory had no idea that professional photographer Jonathan Roberts took a photo of Ford holding onto his arm or that Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer posted it on Facebook.
After the race, he headed over to the KFC YUM! Center to work the third round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
By halftime of the first game, he had 20 calls, including one from the public information officer at the police department.
He told Gregory that a photo of him helping Ford near the finish line had gone viral and received 34,000 views after Fischer posted it to Facebook.
Gregory talked to WHAS-TV news, then CNN, FOX and Entertainment Tonight, and the calls kept coming. In short order the photo had been viewed nearly 2 million times. Gregory is still surprised by the hoopla.
“I think it’s great for Asia,” Gregory said. “She’s changed her life to be there for her kids and faced adversity with strength and courage. When you see her hand in hand with her son, you see how important she is to her family. I wish nothing but the best for them.”
On Facebook, Ford called Gregory her “angel,” and her son, Terrance, said it gave him a new perspective on the men and women in uniform.
“You know all the stuff going on with police,” he told a news station. “It’s just nice to know there are nice people out there.”
All the attention has been fun, but crossing the finish line with Ford wasn’t so different from any other day.
“People ask me why I stopped to help Asia,” Gregory said. “That’s just what we do. I would never pass someone who needed help.”
Gregory’s service to the community isn’t just limited to his hours on the job.
On any given day you will find Gregory at Crosby Middle School, Western Middle School or Roosevelt Kennedy School where he volunteers with Corbin Seavers and the Potter’s House Scholastic Chess Club to teach chess to middle school students.
“For me, it’s not so much teaching chess as a chance to mentor young people and pour into their lives,” he said. “I want people to know that there are police officers who care for them and love them.”
And sometimes, he gets to talk with students about Jesus.
“I am a Christ follower,” Gregory said. “We’re supposed to live our lives for others and watch over kids who have never had a male figure in their lives at all.”