This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
Scott and Barbara Moser don’t mind giving up their Sunday afternoon or braving blustery weather to support their kids’ activities. But admittedly, they don’t quite understand why running a marathon has to be one of them.
“I can’t imagine why anyone would run 26.2 miles on purpose, unless maybe a bear was chasing them,” said Scott, 49, an agricultural mechanic at W.B. Saul High School in Roxborough.
But running a marathon is exactly what their kids, twins Jenna and Nate Moser, intend to do. Both juniors at Saul and members of Students Run Philly Style (SRPS), a nonprofit organization that sponsors marathon training teams in 20 schools across the city, Jenna and Nate practiced five days a week for four months. It was their first marathon.
In May, they completed the 10-mile Broad Street Run. In September, they finished SRPS’s 20-mile qualifier for the 15th Philadelphia Marathon.
A week before the big race, they arrived at Boathouse Row for their final big tuneup: a 15-mile run from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, onto Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, through the streets of Manayunk, and back.
“I like running because you can’t really mess it up,” said Jenna, who joined SRPS as a freshman. “I can’t play sports at all, but I wanted to do something to get healthy.”
Jenna’s introduction to running was a lot smoother than her brother’s. While Jenna seemed to excel at everything she did, Nate struggled both academically and socially. He wrestled with his grandfather’s unexpected death. He began hanging out with a troubled crowd, and grew increasingly depressed and angry.
“It was scary because we just didn’t know what to do for him,” said Scott. “It was a dark time.”
When he decided to join SRPS in the spring of his sophomore year, Nate said it was mainly because, “I wanted to prove I could beat Jenna.”
However, once he joined the team, he quickly found out that SRPS emphasizes finishing races, not speed in running them. In SRPS’s non-competitive atmosphere, all students have to do is run.
The students don’t run alone. Jessica Naugle, an agroecology and environmental science teacher at Saul, mentors Nate, Jenna, and 15 other runners. Just like her students, finishing the Philadelphia Marathon was a first for the 33-year-old.
Naugle said that being a mentor to the 17 student runners at Saul “makes me work out. Even if I don’t want to run, I have to show up to make them want to run.”
In addition, Naugle said running with her students allows her to develop relationships that often feel impossible to build in the classroom. “When you’re running with a kid, he’s not someone who has to figure out the 4.1.10, a environmental science standard. He’s just a kid whose mother is going to kill him because he didn’t get up in time and she had to drive him to school.”
Naugle said that she has seen tremendous growth in the Moser twins through their participation in the program. Before he began running, she said, “ Nate was headed down a path that had everyone nervous. I think running has helped him to make decisions that have allowed him to become a positive person.”
Although Naugle spends a lot of time mentoring her runners – including runs before and after school and on weekends – she doesn’t see the commitment as a burden.
“Running is very therapeutic,” she explained. “Every public high school teacher in the city should run for 30 minutes a day. The road doesn’t talk back.”
Running has had a positive impact on the Moser family. Jenna is already imagining that admissions officers will see her application and say to themselves, “If this girl is determined enough to finish a marathon, she will be determined enough to succeed here.”
For Nate, the impact has been more personal. “Freshman year,” he said, “I wasn’t in good shape physically or mentally. Running has given me a way to take out my anger and it helps me to keep my mind where I want it – focused, not depressed.”
And to the delight of their parents, Barbara said running has brought Jenna and Nate closer together. “Nate slows down so that he and Jenna can talk while they run. They’ve already planned to run together for the first 26 miles of the marathon,” she said.
“But those last two-tenths of a mile, that’s when they’ll take off as fast they can.”
As it turned out, both did finish, with Nate’s final sprint putting him 45 seconds ahead of Jenna.
For information on Students Run Philly Style, call 215-985-2672 or email email@example.com.