STRATTANVILLE, Pa. – When Jessica (Smith) Craig started running long-distance races, the New York City Marathon seemed like only a dream.
But it is a dream that Craig, a Clarion-Limestone and Clarion University graduate and an elementary school teacher at C-L, will get to live out in a week when she lines up alongside her uncle and fellow C-L graduate, Ron Smith, for the 48th running of the NYC Marathon Nov. 4.
Watch the video for Jessica Craig’s New York City Marathon. Video by Ryan Smith and Jack Craig. Video edited by Ryan Smith
It is also a dream that seemed dashed in March when Craig, who had to apply for the lottery to run in the NYC Marathon, which is the largest marathon in the world featuring over 50,000 runners, and didn’t have her name called.
“I had to apply to be in the lottery because unless you are part of the New York City Road Runner and run nine road races, you aren’t guaranteed a spot,” Craig said. “Needless to say, in March, I found out that I didn’t get into the lottery.”
But disappointment soon turned to hope for Craig when she received an e-mail in April.
“An e-mail came to me and the other teachers who didn’t earn a ticket into the Marathon that there was a second chance for a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Craig said.
That once-in-a-lifetime experience came with a catch, though.
“We had to write two essays on STEM,” Craig said. “We were asked to write about the benefits of STEM education, the importance of STEM in schools and how STEM could help our school.
“I took a shot in the dark and thought, hey, I’ve got nothing to lose. I wrote the essays and submitted them.”
Near the end of June – June 25 to be exact – Craig received an e-mail saying she had been picked as one of 50 teachers from across the United State and Canada out of a pool of over 500 applicants chosen to run in the Marathon.”
While that was exciting enough, Craig also learned that her “nothing to lose” strategy had also won something pretty special for the C-L School District.
“In addition to be getting to run in the marathon, I found out I would receive free STEM materials for my school,” Craig said. “I was in denial for weeks thinking this can’t even be true. Things don’t happen like this to people around here, they just don’t.”
What Craig soon found out was that it not only is real but that there is a consultancy agency, TCS, that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year that is behind this program and is also the name sponsor for the New York City Marathon.
“The individuals running this corporation are children of teachers,” Craig said. “These individuals have noticed how hard teachers work. They know it because they have lived it. They wanted a way to give back and honor teachers who were making an impact in their classrooms and communities.”
Craig said TCS has been a leading proponent of STEM education through platforms such as Go IT and Ignite My Future in School.
According to information provided by TCS, less than 25 percent of U.S. schools teach modern computer science related courses yet by 2020 there will be one million more jobs that require computer science skills than there will be graduating students qualified to fill them.
“TCS, in partnership with Discovery Education, has given Clarion-Limestone the Ignite My Future in School Program which is completely free,” Craig said. “This program is designed especially for middle school teachers of all subject areas and is intending to reach 1 million students over five years. It is a new initiative to transform the way students across the United States learn and apply computational thinking, which is a foundational 21st-century skill for successful careers across every sector. Another initiative they offered our school was the program Go IT. It is student-driven.”
FROM SPRINTER TO LONG-DISTANCE RUNNER
For Craig, long-distance running wasn’t always a thought. She was a sprinter in high school and still holds the C-L school record in the 200-meter dash in a time of 26.0 seconds.
But in her senior year at C-L, she tore her ACL while playing basketball – she was good enough in hoops to play for Clarion University – and that changed her running style as well.
“I tore my ACL, playing basketball, the sport that I love the most,” Craig said. “I had to have a complete reconstruction of my knee, teach myself how to walk and run again. I swore to myself that from that point on I would never ever take the ability to walk or run ever again. My college basketball coach, Gie Parsons, has had more of an impact on my life than she may ever realize. I spent many mornings with her in the gym working hard and getting stronger. She instilled in me more of a hard work ethic. A quote that she had lived by was ‘Hard Work Beats Talent When Talent Doesn’t Work Hard.’ This is a quote that will never leave me. I have used this in my coaching experiences, my classroom, and as a mother of four boys who are actively involved in every sport under the sun.”
FRIENDS HAVE STEPPED UP TO MAKE A DIFFICULT TRAINING EXPERIENCE EASIER
The New York City Marathon will be the third marathon for Craig, who has also run in a pair of Pittsburgh Marathons as well as two Pittsburgh Half-Marathons, two Presque Isle Half-Marathons in Erie and the Big Apple Half-Marathon.
She said the training for this one has been the hardest of the three.
“The training has been difficult this time around because I have had to dig down deep to find motivation to train most of the time alone,” Craig said. “However, my friends always show up when I need them the most. Nicole Oakes and Erin Hepfl, the cross country coaches for Clarion-Limestone, have been so good to me. We have run every marathon together, and I have been so grateful for their tips, friendship and camaraderie that we have shared the past marathons and half-marathons that we have completed. They have joined me in my runs when they could. They took time away from their families to run with me and keep me going with positive encouragement and never letting me give up. The training has been difficult as my hardest run was 21 miles. The runs ranged from 15-21 miles each Saturday for the past 100 days. Through the week, I average 50 miles for my training.”
FAMILY SUPPORT IMPORTANT TO CRAIG
Craig said the support she has gotten from her family – husband Patrick and her four sons, Jack, Paul, Ian and Eric – has been unbelievable.
“My husband, Patrick, and my four boys have been simply amazing,” Craig said. “God has surely blessed me with this beautiful family. They ‘get’ me. They know that once I have a goal, I am driven, determined and there isn’t anything they can do to change my mind. They understand that I have a goal of finishing what could be my last marathon, and they support me. Patrick knows that if I can’t play basketball then I am running. We have that understanding. He will be in New York City on race day braving the crowds to watch my goal be met, and I want him to know that I would have never made it this far without him. My boys are very understanding as they realize the hard work that it takes to be complete something that you are determined to do.”
Craig also said her mom, Donna Smith and dad Bob Smith, as well as her brother, Ryan Smith, are also strong supporters.
“Aside from Patrick and the boys, my mom, dad and brother are also my biggest backbone in this world,” Craig said. “I hit the jackpot when God gave me the three of them. Dad taught me that nothing comes without hard work and perseverance. My mom is there supporting me every step of the way. She knows how dedicated to everything that I have put my mind to and helps me every way that she can, being the best Nana to the boys and running with me. My brother, Ryan, made a video for me highlighting my journey to the New York City Marathon which will be used on race day. Without the support of my family and friends, devoting my time to running this far just wouldn’t happen. This isn’t a marathon that people run for time. It is a marathon that sports the spectators that come to cheer on complete strangers.”
Craig is also excited to be running the marathon with her Uncle Ron, who she also ran the Pittsburgh Marathon with, in 2017. Ron Smith lives in New York City and has run the NYC Marathon before but is planning this year’s race to be his last.
“My uncle, who will be running this marathon with me, stated that it makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck,” Craig said.