Life journey of North Allegheny runners Wren and Robin Kucler covers thousands of miles

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Wednesday, May 18, 2022 | 8:49 AM


As an 8-year-old, Wren Kucler told her mom she wanted to run around the house 100 times. That’s a lot of running for a little girl, but her mom Deanna saw no reason to discourage her, so she said, “Go ahead. Knock yourself out.”

She ran all 100.

Next she asked to run a 5K with her dad Rob, who thought that was a little long for a 9-year-old. So, he suggested they run around a nearby lake, with one lap measuring about two miles.

“We get all the way around the lake and she asks, ‘Do you want to go around again?’” said her dad. “I was like, ‘No.’”

So, father and daughter signed up for the 5K.

“On the day of the race, we’re about halfway through and I’m clearly holding her back,” Rob Kucler said. “I said, do you want to go ahead to the end? And she said, sure.”

They quickly found a local track club near their home in Maryland, and within a year or two twin sister Robin Kucler started running with her. Now high school freshmen, the sisters are standouts as newcomers on North Allegheny’s track team this school year. They led the NA girls to a WPIAL team title last week and this week they’ll compete to win individual medals.

They’re two of the top distance runners in the WPIAL, but their life story has already covered thousands of miles. They’re originally from just about as far from Western Pennsylvania as geographically possible.

The sisters were born in Jiangxi, China, a province in the southeast area of the country, and adopted by Deanna and Rob Kucler at 11 months old.

“It’s interesting where we came from and where we are today,” Robin Kucler said. “We’re very thankful to be here with this great team, and thankful to be in a family that supports us.”

Their parents chronicled the adoption process, their trip to China and the joyous journey home in an online diary.

When they first met their new daughters in January 2008, Wren was named Yu Chan and Robin was Yu Juan. Those monikers are now their middle names, one of many steps Rob and Deanna took to keep the girls connected to their Chinese roots.

The family also celebrates Chinese holidays, and the girls have attended “Chinese school,” a once-a-week class for them to learn about their native language and culture. They made a return trip to China when the girls were 6 or 7, meeting with the care workers and foster families who nurtured them as babies.

“With any adoption, there’s some measure of trauma no matter how young children are,” Deanna Kucler said. “A lot of people talk about adoption as a beautiful thing, and it is. We’re so happy to have made our family that way. But it always starts with a sad story.

“If the world were perfect, they would have been with their birth family. It starts in an imperfect way and become a perfect thing.”

The two girls stand out on the track for their speed but also their size. Each stands less than 5-feet tall.

“A lot of people are way taller than us,” Wren Kucler said.

Other runners might underestimate them at times. If so, they’ve surely learned their lesson by now.

Wren Kucler entered Wednesday’s WPIAL individual championship with the second best Class 3A time in the girls 1,600 meters (4:58.88) and the third best in the 3,200 (10:53.30).

Robin Kucler is seeded fifth in both events.

“They bring a lot of natural talent, but they also do all of the right things,” NA coach John Neff said. “They do the workout perfectly well every time. Whatever you ask, they do. They get to bed on time. They limit their stress. They manage their time with their school work. They eat right. They hydrate. Every little thing that you know gives you 1%, they take advantage of.”

Before becoming runners, both sisters were into figure skating while the family lived in Canada. Wren Kucler said her and her sister have a lot of similarities. They each like to cook and both play the flute.

They each hope to someday run in college.

“We do a lot of stuff together,” Robin Kucler said. “We’re always together.”

Rob and Deanna Kucler had been married for five or six years when they first decided to pursue adoption. They searched both domestically and internationally, and learned that China was an option pursued by a number of families.

Deanna Kucler had spent her junior high years living in Taiwan, giving her a familiarity with that part of the world.

So, they filled out the paperwork, starting the clock on a nearly three-year adoption process. One paperwork question asked: Would they be willing to accept twins? They were told that was unlikely, but they said sure, they’d take twins.

In November 2007, the Kuclers received a FedEx packet from the adoption agency. Rob was out of town, so Deanna opened the envelope eager to see information on their future child.

“I said, I just don’t understand why they’ve sent me duplicate paperwork,” she said. “It’s written in mandarin and translated. I’m going back and forth and then I realize (they were twins). It was a happy surprise.

“All of a sudden, you have two kids.”

Their arrival at North Allegheny also was a pleasant surprise.

Rob Kucler is from Ohio, and Deanna has roots in West Virginia. Early in their relationship, they had spent nearly a decade living in Western Pennsylvania and returned to the area just last summer. The family also lived for a time in Ontario, Canada, and Maryland.

Their family grew while in Canada, with the birth of Violet, who is in eighth grade, and Greyson, who’s in fourth. So, they also celebrate some Canadian holidays as well as traditional American one.

Work had dictated where they’d lived, but that changed last summer.

“Everybody works from home now,” Rob Kucler said. “So we decided, if we get to choose anywhere we want to live, we kept the same job and moved back to Pittsburgh.”

The sisters ran cross country in the fall and were instrumental in North Allegheny winning the team title. Wren finished third, Robin was sixth, but by then their coach wasn’t too surprised.

Neff, who coaches both cross country and track, was first introduced to them last July. At offseason cross country workouts, the runners are divided into groups based on how fast they expect to run.

“We say, whoever can run 7-minute pace, step up,” Neff said. “Whoever’s going to run a 7:15 pace, step up. They stepped right up in there. I said, either they’re really good or I didn’t communicate well.

“They are really good.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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