The Life of Peyton: 9-year-old leaves legacy of fitness, fun and the joy of hard work

Photos of Peyton Moore, 9, appear to music inside the full St. Andrew's Church in Mount Pleasant during his funeral last Saturday. About 1,000 people attended.

Grace Beahm

If Peyton Moore could have scripted his last weekend of life, it might have gone like this:

He would win first place in javelin and shot put in a regional track meet. He would rank first in both for the state.

He would play water balloons in the rain with his buddies.

He would kiss his mama good night.

He would tuck his head beneath his blanket while his dad read him “Eragon.” When his dad slipped out, he’d call: I love you, Daddy.

And his dad would say, “I love you too, buddy.”

Which is exactly what happened during Peyton Moore’s last weekend, before he went to sleep two weeks ago and never woke up again.

Peyton was just 9 years old. Yet, he’d already saved his father’s life.

Noah Moore, director of juvenile diversion programs for the 9th Circuit Solicitor’s Office, topped 265 pounds in 2003 when his wife was pregnant.

And at 5 feet, 6 inches, Noah isn’t a tall man.

Then, when Peyton was 2, Noah’s dad died after years of living an unhealthy lifestyle. On some level, Noah always figured he’d be like his father.

Then Noah’s wife, Jennifer, videotaped him playing football with Peyton in their Mount Pleasant yard. The toddler blew by Noah.

“I realized I wasn’t going to be able to keep up with him or do these things with him,” Noah recalls.

He decided to make changes.

At first, he improved his diet, then walked and jogged with his boy in a jogging stroller. He joined MUSC’s Weight Management Center.

In time, he and Peyton worked up to running. He and Jennifer joined MUSC’s Boot Camp program, run by Marines.

By early 2008, when Peyton was 4, Noah had lost 100 pounds.

The next year, he ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., while Jennifer ran the 10K and Peyton ran the kids’ mile.

“Peyton was the catalyst, the reason Noah lost so much weight,” Jennifer says.

Noah ran marathons and ultra-marathons and became a certified running coach. He launched Moore On Running, a popular blog about running.

Noah finally felt he’d become a role model for his only child.

And he had.

Peyton ran his first 5K when he was 5 and raced on from there. He even raced to raise money for a Marines’ Semper Fi fund, which has raised $15,000.

“Marines need help, too,” he told his parents.

Father and son started their own Couch to 5K, a group for new runners.

And in April, the two ran the Cooper River Bridge Run — Peyton’s first 10K.

They had become a father-son face of athletic motivation.

“Peyton was the inspiration for that from the beginning,” says Greg Shore, Noah’s running coach and close friend.

Peyton would introduce himself to competition with statements like, “I’m going to beat you.”

Like many young boys, tact wasn’t always his strong suit, recalls Michael Flournoy, his javelin coach with the Mount Pleasant Track Club.

But Peyton kept his word.

On his last Saturday, Peyton placed first in javelin and shot put at a large regional meet. That sent him ranked first in both events going into the state meet, being held this weekend.

The track club’s coaches had just chosen Peyton their Athlete of the Week.

Today, track club members are wearing red bracelets that say: Running for Peyton. Their season is dedicated to him.

In December, Peyton’s grandparents, who live in Mount Pleasant, witnessed his first seizure — at least the first one anyone knew about.

He was diagnosed with benign rolandic epilepsy.

This form of epilepsy is diagnosed in childhood, around 6 to 8 years old, and is characterized by mild, infrequent seizures. They can occur during sleep and often don’t require medication. In nearly all cases, they cease by a child’s mid-teens.

Peyton’s doctor suggested a wait-and-watch approach.

Peyton suffered several more mild seizures after that. The last was in February, at least that anyone knew of.

On the last Monday of fourth grade, Peyton wasn’t awake for school on time. A straight-A student, Peyton loved school.

Noah opened the bedroom door. Peyton was not breathing.

Noah performed CPR. Jennifer called 911.

Hospital staff revived Peyton. But after going without oxygen for too long, most of Peyton already was gone.

His doctors said he likely suffered a seizure in his sleep.

At MUSC the next day, on June 4, with his family around him, Peyton’s life support was removed.

Noah leaned over his son and whispered: “Buddy, you saved my life. Thank you.”

It is the first sunny day, a vast blue-with-cotton-balls sky, after a week of rain. As cars jam roads to local beaches and fishermen line the bridges, mourners arrive for a funeral.

Hundreds of them move in quiet waves down the streets leading to St. Andrew’s Church in Mount Pleasant not far from the Moore’s home.

As seats fill and people overflow into the foyer, nearly 1,000 mourners in all, the church’s large screens show pictures of Peyton living life as he liked it.

Peyton on the beach. Peyton in football gear. Peyton at a track meet. Peyton grinning at a pancake with a whipped cream smile.

And up front, the urn. It is covered in a white sheet.

Marines in dress blue uniforms proceed down the aisle. Then, Jennifer’s parents, Stewart and Paula Johnson.

Jennifer and Noah come last, clinging to one another. A wide black hat shields her face and the sorrow she hauls forward with each step.

They sit up front, leaning in as if they’ve collapsed onto one another.

Peyton’s “unofficial godfather,” attorney Richard Hricik, steps forward.

He reminds Jennifer of suffering severe back pain after a major car wreck.

He reminds Noah of being obese.

With Peyton, for Peyton, they overcame these things.

“The child became the teacher. He taught us lessons we wouldn’t have learned otherwise,” Hricik says. “Peyton changed lives.”

Finally, Noah rises.

Peyton loved to watch his dad speak to groups. And Noah loved looking into a crowd to see that giant grin that said, I want to be just like you when I grow up.

For that boy, Noah steps to a podium. He looks out to the crying eyes of hundreds. He and Jennifer were blessed with Peyton for nine years.

What a gift.

“And we were so happy we got a chance to share him with you,” Noah says. “He lived life to the absolute fullest.”

After the Rev. Rob Sturdy commands Peyton to God’s care, after candles are snuffed, after a bagpiper plays “Amazing Grace,” Noah and Jennifer rise.

Jennifer walks up the aisle hunched over at the waist, clutching a white cloth against her stomach. The wide black hat shields her face.

In the procession, the black hat passes Mount Pleasant Academy. Peyton’s school sits empty for the summer.

Noah said at his son’s funeral: “Peyton loved his mama.”

Peyton especially loved to talk with her. They’d sit on the couch for hours, sometimes with her head in his lap, and talk. And talk.

Because Peyton also loved to talk. And Jennifer loved to listen.

You see, Peyton saved his mom’s life, too.

When he was little, Jennifer was in a car wreck that left her with such severe back injuries she was bedridden for a year and had an artificial disc inserted.

And she smoked. She tried to hide it from Peyton.

But one day he spotted her and in his little boy voice said: “No more ‘mokin’, Mama.”

“I was so embarrassed,” Jennifer says.

So she quit.

On Peyton’s last Saturday, he left his mom a carefully wrapped package.

It was a ceramic heart he’d made for her.

Peyton loved to run in the rain.

The day after he was buried, rain clouds furrow overhead. Throngs of people flow down Old Village streets like an incoming tide.

At 7 a.m. every Sunday, Peyton and Noah would meet their Couch to 5K group here. But on this day, the group is joined by elite and intermediate runners from Charleston’s running community.

Others tell Jennifer and Noah things like: We came out to start running. For Peyton.

Nearly 300 people soon surround the couple.

Noah tells the group how Peyton would sense when new runners were struggling. He would head straight for them.

“He’s gonna be here, in somebody, and tell you that you can do this,” Noah tells the group.

But really, as the masses take off running, Peyton’s legacy is encouraging them all.

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