Mt. Airy ex-couch potato now an ‘Ironman’ aiding kids
by Jennifer Katz
It was freezing rain, and Anthony Alston, 17, was struggling to finish the Philadelphia Marathon. Along side him for six miles in the rain was volunteer Kevin Peter, 45, newly elected president of West Mt. Airy Neighbors whose dedication and support that day helped Alston realize what was to be one of many goals for him.
Alston was one of approximately 60 runners from Students Run Philly Style, a nonprofit group that pairs students with running mentors, to run in last year’s marathon. And Peter is one of 125 mentor volunteers who give their time three or four times a week to help train more than 525 students from middle and high schools across the city for long- distance running.
A year after joining Students Run Philly Style, Peter is so energized he is participating in the Ironman Competition in Louisville on August 30, a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run event, to raise money for the group.
“It’s a confidence boost,” said Peter of what the program means to the students. “It helps them see how to achieve, to break things into small pieces. You know, it’s like ‘If I can finish a marathon, I can finish high school, I can finish a test or prep for the SATs.’”
The runners range in age from 12 to 18. In addition to running, the program offers academic support, SAT preparation and leadership development. The training program runs for nine months from March to November, when the Philadelphia Marathon takes place, and includes the 10-mile Broad Street Run. They also host summer clinics on cross training, Frisbee, running the Art Museum steps and relays at Belmont Plateau.
Heather McDanel (correct spelling) has been the director of Students Run Philly Style since it began five years ago. “The program offers young people marathon training to help them succeed in life,” she said.
McDanel said Peter stood out among the volunteers from the beginning. “Kevin is a fabulous supporter and has become a mentor to me personally,” she said. “Advising me on development and fundraising.”
She was struck by his devotion, especially to Alston in that terrible weather. “Kevin stayed with him for six long miles,” she said. “How many volunteers would do that?”
Peter can relate to the kids more than some might think when they hear of his participation in Ironman events. Just seven years ago, Peter said he was an out-of-shape, middle-aged couch potato.
“When Ben (his son) was a toddler, I literally didn’t have the energy to play outside with him for 20 minutes without getting winded,” he said.
He began getting into shape riding his bike and watching what he ate. He lost about 25 pounds. Peter said he is not a “self-starter,” and when a friend started doing triathlons, he thought it might be the kind of motivation he needed to kick-start a more rigorous exercise routine. “I thought I would really have to force myself to get into shape.”
Five years ago, Peter started running. After his first short-distance triathlon, he “got hooked … Having never been athletic, it was great to challenge myself to see what my
body was capable of.”
It is that same spirit Peter sees in the kids at Students Run Philly Style. “Imagine walking into the school the Monday after the marathon with your medal and hearing your name announced over the loud speaker,” he said. “A lot of the kids come from lower income backgrounds without a lot of positive role models. This gives them an opportunity to push themselves through something they know will be difficult and to persevere.”
Peter said the kids inspire him, so he wanted to use the allure of the Ironman event to raise money for the program. McDanel estimated the cost per student at $900, which includes several pairs of sneakers per runner, race registration fees, t-shirts for the team so they can easily keep track of all the kids during the races, food and water for the races and transportation.
This year, Janus, a mutual fund company, has teamed up with Ironman, which is owned and run by the World Triathlon Corporation, to allow competitors to raise money for charities. Janus has provided a web site and a secure online donation system. (All donations go directly to the competitor’s charity of choice.) Also Janus will make additional donations based on how much each person raises by race day, August 30, up to $10,000, for the competitor who raises the most money.
For more information or to donate to Kevin Peter and Students Run Philly Style, visit www.studentsrunphilly.org.