It would be fair to say running saved Noah Moore’s life.
But if you’re going to say that, then you would really have to say it was his son Peyton who did the saving.
“When Peyton was born, I was 270 pounds. When he was 2, I was chasing him around and I couldn’t keep up with him,” Moore says. “He changed everything.”
Moore didn’t start running right away. He couldn’t.
So he started walking.
The self-described “hands-on father” enrolled himself in a boot camp through the Medical University of South Carolina that was manned by local Marines.
It took months before he could run a mile without stopping, but when that milestone came, it was glorious.
And the Marines were there to witness it.
So was Peyton.
“I had been trying, trying, trying,” Moore recalled, noting his numerous trips to Hampton Park in downtown Charleston, S.C. “The first time I ran it without stopping, the Marines were all like, ‘good job, man’ – and then I threw up, and they were like, ‘YEAH!’”
Moore laughs when he thinks about that day in 2005.
He smiles when he thinks about any day running with his son.
If this were a story with a fairytale ending, I could tell you that the two have now been running together for the past 15 years.
But, this isn’t that kind of story.
Running and running
Moore didn’t really become what he would call “a runner” until 2007, but 100 pounds lighter, he logged thousands of miles with Peyton. At first with Peyton in the stroller, and then soon enough, with a toddler by his side.
“I would run over the bridge and back with him,” Moore says of the iconic Ravenel Bridge that crosses the Charleston Harbor and is the site for one of the biggest 10Ks in the country – the Cooper River Bridge Run. “Peyton would run with me everywhere. We ran all over. We ran the bridge, we ran the trails at Laurel Hill…”
Their favorite place to run together were those trails – 745 acres laced with oak trees, a lake and intertwining dirt paths.
Moore kept running and running. He and his wife would run 5Ks and 10Ks, always with Peyton included in some way (which more often than not meant Jennifer Moore carrying her 2-year-old through half a 5K to get him to the finish line).
Finally in 2010, Moore ran the Marine Corps Marathon at the Pentagon and raised money for the Semper Fi fund as a way to pay back a group he credited with helping him get his best life back.
Still, his biggest fan was Peyton.
“Peyton was really into [that race], and we were sitting in bed one day and he said, ‘Daddy, I want to run a marathon.’”
Thrilled with his son’s continued passion for running and amazed at his plan to do a marathon, Moore and Peyton looked for a kids marathon. It turned out there was an adapted “kids marathon” which young runners could log enough races to equal a full marathon of miles.
Peyton agreed to that plan, with one caveat: “Can I raise money for the Marines too? Because, daddy, sometimes Marines need help too,” Moore recalls, with another smile on his face.
So at age 6, Peyton wrote a letter to family and friends asking for donations to the Semper Fi fund in his quest to run. Moore bought a $5 t-shirt and put the names of everyone on it who had donated to Peyton’s cause. Finishing his “marathon” at a “Catch the Leprechaun 5K,” Moore even made a medal for his son.
“We had to remember this. He raised a thousand bucks, after all,” Moore said, adding that his then 6-year-old raised another $14,000 by going to groups afterward and talking about the effort.
Moore and Peyton continued their quest to run as many miles as possible – Moore through ultra marathons all over the country and Peyton through the local Mount Pleasant Track Club. And the two also did as many local races as they could manage.
Peyton even kept up with local runners and their performances.
“He had a memory you wouldn’t believe,” his dad says, noting his son’s ability to remember all the NFL and college football scores from two weeks before (which possibly shouldn’t be surprising since his namesake, Peyton Manning, was known for his football IQ). “He knew everyone’s PR and followed their 5Ks. I’d be at a race, and I’d see him over talking to [local champions] Rives O’Connell and Michael Barks about their 5K times (laughs). Peyton loved being at races.”
But those races came to an abrupt end in 2013 when Peyton died at age 9 following a seizure caused by benign rolandic epilepsy.
Diagnosed a few months before when he had his first seizure, Moore and his wife were more worried that Peyton would be somewhere away from home when he might have another episode; they never expected it to be in his bed. But Peyton had a seizure in the middle of the night and got caught between the mattress and the wall. Moore did CPR on his son, but there had been too much time to make a difference.
“I could dwell on that memory the rest of my life,” Moore says after a long moment. “But I choose not to. I choose to remember every goofy, beautiful memory I can. And then we make new ones with him in mind.”
Peyton’s Wild & Wacky
That choice to make new ones was the driving force behind “Peyton’s Wild & Wacky 50K” – a race begun in memory of the kid who loved running, loved runners and absolutely loved life.
“When Peyton died, we wanted to just shut down and not come out,” Moore recalled. “But the running community wouldn’t let us.”
He remembers vividly the first Christmas without Peyton – “It was brutal.”
They didn’t send out any cards, and they didn’t want to get any either. But one came. Then another. Soon it was a stack, and he knew he was going to have to open them.
Inside the first was a gift card for Starbucks, his favorite coffee shop. The next card also featured the signature green and white gift card. And the next one.
“It got us to walk out the door and do something with our friends who cared about us,” Moore acknowledged.
Pretty soon the couple got back into their running community where they found compassion and strength.
“It was absolutely my therapy … and our outlet,” Moore said. “It was the thing that kept us going.”
So naturally, the grieving parents decided a race in their son’s name was a great way to keep his memory alive – not just for them but for all the people whose lives Peyton had touched.
“A lot of people looked to us to put on a race after Peyton died. And it’s not an easy thing. It’s emotional, such a roller coaster,” Moore acknowledges. “But everything I’d be doing for Peyton – going to soccer games, going to track meets, going to races – I put into this race. It’s for him.”
The Wild & Wacky 50K takes place over 10 hours, serving as an excellent “first ultra” for runners looking to race longer distances but not ready to go 50K or 100K out of the gate – as well as an outstanding tune-up race for elite runners wanting to test their speed.
In Peyton’s Wild & Wacky, each runner runs a 5K 10 times, beginning at the top of each hour for 10 hours. The race also has a “team” dimension, where a group of two runners can each run five 5Ks, or a group of five runners can each do two 5Ks. The most recent Wild & Wacky this past March boasted 500 finishers.
Naturally, the race takes place at Laurel Hill County Park, S.C., and money raised goes to three of Peyton’s favorite things – the track club, his school and the Injured Marines Semper Fi Fund. Since Wild & Wacky’s first year in 2015, the race has donated more than $50,000 in total to the three recipients.
Moore describes the race as “a cross country meet on steroids.”
Runners bring their tents and camping chairs and spend the day running, eating and playing frisbee in the open meadow. If they pay attention, there’s even a 150-yard section known as “Peyton’s Pass” that Moore and about 40 volunteers had to build two weeks before the race the second year.
Every single thing about the race – from its “crazy vibe” to the signs around the trails featuring silly pictures of Peyton to the bacon and cinnamon rolls offered in between to the goodie bags full of Legos™ and toy cars – is exactly the kind of race Peyton would have liked.
“The whole point is to be like Peyton would be,” Moore says. “If Peyton were here, he’d be the kid playing frisbee in between his races, probably eating food that would make him throw up.”
Moore remembered how he and Peyton would look through goodie bags after races and be so disappointed.
“There was never anything good in them, just ads and flyers!” Moore says. “When we were thinking about doing this race, we knew it had to be local, it had to be silly, and it had to hurt a little.
“This race is a really tough thing to put on, but it’s a really good thing,” Moore adds. “It feels so good when we see all these kids having fun and all these adults acting like kids.”
Although the Wild & Wacky race is all about Peyton, it’s not even close to the only thing Moore and his wife continue doing in their son’s name.
For a child on earth just under 10 years, Peyton left quite a legacy among his family, friends, the Marines, the Charleston running community, teammates in the Mount Pleasant Track Club and classmates at Mount Pleasant Academy.
So it’s fitting that a multitude of awards are given out in Peyton’s honor every year, including the “Peyton Athlete of the Year” to a cross country and track and field athlete each season; the “Peyton Award” for the fastest 12-and-under boy and girl runners at the local Floppin Flounder 5K; the “Peyton Spirit Award” at the Charleston Marathon as well as at the Kids Fun Run for the Bridge Run. There’s also an award given in Peyton’s name to the top fifth-grader at Mount Pleasant Academy for high achievement in academics, athletics and leadership. At the track where Peyton spent so many of his young days running and throwing the javelin – named the Peyton Johnson Moore Track and Field – there’s a large rock with his picture and a plaque in his memory.
“His legacy is overwhelming and also humbling,” Moore says. “We knew how we wanted to raise our child, but he took on such a life of his own. And he did that. We didn’t artificially create that. Peyton made these things happen. Which is neat. Which is why he affected so many.”
Legacy of a super hero
If this were the kind of story that had a sort of sad-happy ending, it might end here.
But it’s not that kind of story either.
It’s the sort of story that just keeps going – with lots of happy and sad moments to remind us that life is precious and people like Peyton were here to remind us of that.
Peyton – who was his dad’s motivation for getting into running and now remains his inspiration for it – leaves a legacy for his little brother, born three years after Peyton died.
Miles has a lot to learn about his big brother’s zest for life – even in the short time his brother lived it.
But as Miles sits in the running stroller and his dad pushes it back and forth over the Ravenel Bridge, the newest Moore is sure to experience big brother Peyton.
“I love that there’s this legacy of what Peyton did and that it lasts. It matters to us,” says Moore. “But Miles is his own person and who knows if he will love running. But we want to share this with him so he gets to see it…because, you know, he deserves it.”
This may not be a fairytale kind of story, but it is a superhero one.
Peyton was once asked what his dad did for a living, and he answered, “he’s kinda like a superhero.”
No doubt, the feeling is mutual.