A Parent's Guide To Raising A Family of Runners

Brandyn Affolder is the mother of five children, including Noah and Sam Affolder, two national-caliber runners in high school who have since matriculated to the University of Oregon and the University of Washington. Affolder's husband, LTC Jason Affolder, works in the Army and the family has presided over several moves throughout the country. But those transitions haven't affected the boys all that much. In fact, Affolder writes about how those moves have strengthened the family even more. Here, in this essay from 2017, Affolder writes about what it takes to raise a family of runners and what kind of impact moving has on them.

As a mother, I get this question often: What does it take to raise runners?

I can answer this in a variety of ways, but let's start first with my family. My husband and I have five children, among whom are Noah and Sam Affolder, who both run for Carlisle High in Pennsylvania. Several of our children have chosen to run competitively, including my oldest, Murphy, who competes for Saint Louis College of Pharmacy.

Running started in our family very long ago, and we've had different generations find success in the sport. My dad, Danny Price, earned eight college varsity letters in cross country and track. While Noah has surpassed his 4:08 mile, Grandpa Dann still holds the family 5K record of 14:10 and the marathon record of 2:27 -- an Olympic qualifying standard when he ran it in 1972.

As parents, Jason and I set a realistic expectation and instilled a rule that our children must run at least one season of cross country. Because we know sports will teach them about respect, discipline, and work ethic. We think by doing this our kids will be taught several different lessons, but the main one is follow-through.

* Noah Affolder was a PIAA Class AAA XC champion in 2016

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After that first year is over, they can determine whether they want to continue running. And while our three oldest have played several seasons of hockey, they all chose to pursue running. Our youngest son, Luke, shows great potential in running but uses his speed in basketball and lacrosse.

We encourage our kids in any athletic endeavor they choose, but we also think it's important to recognize the gifts they've been given. Our youngest child, Hope, runs with her elementary school's bimonthly program. And we've already seen her determination in the sport as she watches what running has afforded her brothers. She didn't like staying at home while we traveled with Noah and Sam to Foot Locker in California.

In raising our children, my husband and I prioritize life lessons that will have deep impacts down the road. One such lesson is teaching our kids what having character means. While Noah and Sam are largely recognized as runners, we often remind them there's more to them than athletics. Their character reflects on what kind of individuals they are right now and what kind of individuals they will be in the future.

We know their identity will extend beyond running. And that means their value as human beings is not dependent upon their athletic accomplishments. There are things we want them to learn.

We want them to feel compassion in victory and defeat.

We want them to understand the value of integrity, work ethic, and honor.

These characteristics are a part of our military background, but they're also ideal traits to have in life. We hope the legacy any of our children leave will extend beyond athletic records.

So as a family, we are each other's biggest fans. That fan base encompasses not just our immediate family but also the love and support of their grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. My husband's job in the Army has taken us to many different states, including idyllic areas in Alaska, New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. At each duty station, the military and local communities follow the boys, and now they have fans in many states and even foreign countries.

And while we move frequently with the Army, the transition is often pretty smooth. While we sometimes are given months to prepare for a move, we have also had moves with only two weeks' notice. Thankfully, we have moved enough times that the process is routine, and we always know someone who lives where we're headed.

* Sam Affolder was a VHSL XC Class 4A champion in 2018

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Army families are great about sharing information about their own experiences. Once we know the destination, we look into housing options. We prefer to live on the military installation if housing is available. Thus, the kids sometimes have attended the school zoned for the post, which hasn't always necessarily been the school with the best running program.

Over our years doing this, we've worked with athletic directors and coaches and have had tremendous support in getting what we need for the boys. Teammates and coaches assimilate the boys into their program, and it often makes for a smooth transition. Noah is taking a freshman science class to meet Pennsylvania graduation requirements.

But overall, home is the people you're with regardless of where you are. Given Jason's next assignment is to the Pentagon, we had many options regarding where to live. We prioritized living in a smaller and less congested community with a school whose athletics and academics would best serve the three kids at home.

And while the school uniform constantly changes, running provides continuity and stability. The media coverage affords them a platform with which to share their message and passion. The travel to national meets matures them and also affords them the opportunity to network and relate to others facing similar pressures and conditions. The opportunity to run at the college level with financial assistance relieves a burden from the family while also fulfilling a dream for them.

As a family, we truly make running a family staple. Every single member of our unit buys in.

We watch running videos online, study Workout Wednesday segments, and experiment with every foam roller on the market. Dinner conversations include laughing about the latest RunJunkie video and what spikes runners across the country are wearing.

There are debates whether chocolate milk is the best recovery drink and if you should eat bananas for breakfast. With multiple runners in our family, there is always the comparison of who ran the fastest at what meet -- and at what age -- and who will be the first to break four minutes in the mile.

And it's never assumed that the oldest brother will dominate. Sam will tell you that he starts every race fully intending to beat Noah and any other runner in the field.

Raising runners of varying ages means I wash socks of varying sizes and attend races at levels from elementary school to professional. One of our fondest memories was watching Noah contribute to the USA uniform for the first time at the Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross Country International Challenge, which his team won. But we get just as much pleasure from Sam's efforts and Luke's lacrosse and Hope's elementary school runs, too.

I happily cheer for any one of our kids, regardless of finishing time. I get as nervous for my 11-year-old as I do for my 21-year-old.

I am proud when one remembers to take out the garbage, another gets an A on the test, and when another gets invited to the Nike Elite camp.

But mostly, I'm truly proud when I hear from someone else how they find one of my children to be exceptionally respectful and thoughtful. It's then when I know our lessons are seeping through.

I know then that their character is showing.

I love raising children each with their unique approach to a common pursuit.

- Brandyn Affolder

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