Why This Nurse Is Running the Boston Marathon In Scrubs

Over the winter, Samantha Roecker wrote letters to a high school friend. Her friend had worked as a physician assistant in New York City during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and now has post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety so severe that some days she struggled to get out of bed. Roecker hoped her letters would encourage her friend to at least go to the mailbox.

As she tried finding support for her friend, Roecker realized how tough it was for health care workers grappling with their mental health to find the help they need.

“I wish her story was unique but unfortunately I don’t really think it is. I was just doing everything I could to try to find resources to help her as a health care worker and what I found was there’s really nothing out there,” Roecker, 30, a nurse at an outpatient ENT surgical practice at Penn Medicine and family medicine nurse practitioner student at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, told TODAY. “I was really motivated by her to try to make a difference somehow.”

Roecker combined her two loves — nursing and running — to raise awareness of the mental health challenges facing nurses. She plans to run the Boston Marathon in scrubs and also hopes to break the Guinness World Records title for fastest marathon run in scrubs, which was last set in 2019 by nurse Jessica Anderson during the London marathon. Anderson finished in 3 hours 8 minutes and 22 seconds, according to Runner’s World.

“My training indicates that I can (break the record). So I hope that if everything goes my way that day, that it’s in my sights,” Roecker said. “I am definitely not as fit as I’ve been in the past and I’ve had some minor injuries here and there in the last year.”

Roecker ran track in middle school, high school and college but the longest distance she ever ran was a 10K. Her marathon career started after she was a spectator at the Boston Marathon in 2014, just a year after the bombing.

“It was just a really amazing year to watch the Boston Marathon. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I need to run this next year,’” Roecker explained. “I signed up for the last possible marathon that you could qualify for the Boston Marathon.”

She didn’t just qualify for Boston at a marathon in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, she won it.

“I wasn’t expecting it. I went in there literally wanting to qualify for Boston,” Roecker said. “At mile 22 my mom told me I was in third place and I wasn’t too far from winning. I had no idea and then I just tried to turn it up the last couple miles. It was pretty surreal. I feel like I blacked it out.”

When she ran the Boston Marathon that year she did “fine” and ran it a second time, which was “the worst marathon ever.”

“I definitely have some unfinished business in Boston,” she said. “But I’ve never really run it for more than just a really cool … experience.”

While she hopes to break the record for a marathon run in scrubs, she won’t be too disappointed if she doesn’t.

“It’s a really cool thing but it was truly supposed to be something that gave me a purpose to do this. This has already gone far beyond what I expected and the purpose has already been served,” Roecker said. “It would be a cherry on top of the cake if I can pull it off. But at the end of the day I’m really happy with how this has gone.”

Her friend that inspired Roecker’s advocacy has since left her job and has become a teacher at a physician assistant program. Roecker said she seems to be doing better and feels glad she can be a part of her friend’s recovery.

“She has a lot of other good friends too and she knows that she was a big motivation for this and I think seeing where this has gone is really motivating to her and inspiring to her too. So that makes me happy,” Roecker said. “She’s trying really hard and doing everything she can.”

Running helped Roecker grapple with the stress she faced in the pandemic.

“I leave nursing and I have this whole other world of running that I can open the door and go be a part of,” Roecker said. “Also it’s not a bad hobby, too. I get a lot of natural endorphins.”

Raising awareness of mental health challenges that health care workers face inspired Samantha Roecker to try to break the Guinness World Record for running a marathon in scrubs.Courtesy Emily Maye

Still, she knows that many people are still struggling and still need help. Money she raises will support the American Nurses Foundation’s Well-Being Initiative, which helps the mental health and wellness of registered nurses. She hoped to raise $26,200 and she’s very close to reaching her goal. For the marathon, she’s wearing scrubs from Moxie Scrubs, and has already run in them and found them really “breathable.” She feels passionate about reducing the stigma associated with mental health and providing support to health care workers who need it.

“I do think there is a gap between what health care workers are actually going through and what resources they need. We went into this profession expecting a physically and emotionally demanding job, but nobody expected this,” she said. “It’s just a whole new level of trauma that people have endured.”

Leave a Comment