When Simon Cane was in year 3 (second grade in the US), he began learning about all the ways humans have an impact on the environment—and really took those classroom lessons to heart in a way that set him apart from his schoolmates.
'He told me we drive too much and make too much pollution,' his dad, Jonathan Cane, told Runner’s World.
So Simon convinced his parents to start hanging their clothes to dry, taking the stairs instead of lifts, and other 'green' measures.
'For much of [year 1 and year 2] I rode my bike to [Simon’s] school with him on the back,' Cane said. 'We had a lot of fun being outdoors. We’d stop to give our dog treats and generally enjoyed it.'
As Simon got bigger, though, it wasn’t practical for him to ride on his father’s bike, but it also didn’t make sense to ride together—both because of safety concerns and because there was no place to stash Simon’s bike. So, most of the time they drove the 1.5 miles to school.
'The drive is annoying, and folks double- and triple-park, so it was always super aggravating,' Cane said.
But in 2019, when Simon was going into year 4 (third grade in the US), the 8-year-old came up with a new way to help the planet: running the 1.5 miles to school, instead of riding in a car. And Cane promised his son he’d join him for as long as he wanted.
'We did a test run one day in August, and decided to give it a go. In all candor, I thought he’d blink after it got really cold or rainy, but he never did,' Cane said.
Cane recalls one day when the weather was particularly bad.
'It’s really raining out there today,' he told Simon. And Simon said, '"Well then we’re going to get wet!" He took pride in toughing it out, and it became a really fun family ritual.'
Since the start, Simon has run with his dad and their black lab, Lola, and has even inspired his mom, Nicole Sin Quee, to join in. They soon became known as 'the family that runs to school.'
It was probably only a matter of time before Simon started running. Cane, known to many as Coach Cane, is an exercise physiologist and professional running coach. Sin Quee is a math teacher and accomplished runner and triathlete.
'It’s funny because I’m a professional running coach, and my wife was a national-caliber athlete, so everyone assumes that either we pushed him into it or he is doing it to get faster, but it really was the environmental concern that spurred it on.'
Some days they’d walk a lot, and some days Simon would try to beat his record. '16:11!' Simon said, noting his fastest time. He can recall the specifics of most of his runs.
Unsurprisingly, Simon does have a bit of competitive nature to him. Last autumn he did a New York Road Runners youth race in the Bronx’s Van Cortlandt Park and came in second. After he shook the winner’s hand, he told his dad he wanted to start training because he didn’t like not winning.
'That afternoon he was pushing my wife up a hill in one of his toy cars, and running medicine balls up stairs. So yes, there’s some competition in him,' Cane said.
Simon’s running to school streak ended March 13, the day school closed due to COVID-19. He had done 115 consecutive days with no absences, no tardiness, and no driving.
'I talked to him about keeping the streak going even after school closed, but since he treated it as a means of transportation, he didn’t like doing the round trip for nothing,' Cane said.
Cane and Sin Quee were very purposeful in letting Simon make the decisions around the running challenge.
'Simon led the way,' Cane said. 'Some days he wanted to run fast, so we ran fast. Some days he wanted to stop and pet dogs, or walk most of the way, so we did that. I never pressured him to run fast—unless we were running late for school.'
Cane said it wasn’t the training aspect of running that made Simon want to run to school, but an opportunity to spend time with his dog, and 'to a lesser extent, his mom and me.'
Others started noticing what Simon was doing. The crossing guards looked out for them, and kids at school caught onto the streak.
'After a while it was clear that he took pride in it and enjoyed the attention from the other kids,' Cane said.
Cane readily admits that it wasn’t always perfect—some days were great and others were just getting it done.
'There were some days you’d see us and it would be straight out of some sappy TV show—we’re holding hands and singing songs—and then other days Simon would be in a bad mood and we wouldn’t talk the whole way and I’d just say, "I love you, now go into school."'
But they did it, and that counted for something.
Simon and his family have been in quarantine in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but have been visiting the local track most mornings. They treat the time the same way as the commute to school. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but all in all, a good way to start the day and get moving a bit.
Next year, Simon plans to resume running to school, though there’s no pressure to do it every day.
'I didn’t expect the run streak to go nearly as long as it did,' Cane said, 'So if the first day rolls around and he says, "Dad let’s not," I’m not going to push him.'
What Simon’s parents both appreciate most of all about this project is the pride that Simon took in it.
'He really got excited about it,' Cane said. 'For an 8-year-old to have that much focus on anything is pretty great.'
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