Nettie rides to preschool

My first and only trip to the nation’s capital was because of cancer.

16 years later, I’m going back because of cancer.

It was October, 2002. My dad, Tom Schmidt, was dying of cancer. We came to the National Institute of Health for a miracle but the treatment didn’t work. He died two months later on Christmas day. My dad was 48 years old.

Tom Schmidt

Next week, I’ll be returning to DC and this time, I’m the dad. My 11 year old son, Jameson, will be joining me at Less Cancer’s National Cancer Prevention Day. I’ll be presenting the youth-focused, active transportation-centered, neighborhood-based work that the small nonprofit I founded is doing. I’m hoping to make some new memories in Washington. Some better memories.

I think about cancer a lot these days. More accurately, I think a lot about how not to get cancer. About how to help those I love not get cancer.

I try my best to practice evidence-based prevention. Sun safety. Eating well. Reducing exposure to harmful toxins. Having strong relationships with my family, friends and community. And being physically active.

12 years ago, I gave up my driver’s license. I didn’t need it. Walking and biking to the places I needed to go is easy, fun, and convenient. And it makes me happy. I walk or ride my bicycle everywhere now — to work, the library, store, park, beach and to our school with my sons.

My boys, Carter and Jameson, and lovely wife, Johanna

It was at their neighborhood school that I started to notice things: an insane car line each and every day, very few kids walking and even less riding their bikes. These things bothered me.

I believe that small changes downstream can lead to big changes in the future.

I believe that kids learning to move and being physically active as part of ordinary life — like going to school or the park or the library or the beach — and then inspiring their parents, teachers, principals, neighbors to do the same is a powerful means to sustainable community healthfulness.

I believe that independent, happy, confident, ready to learn young people are empowered to be guardians of their health, develop lifelong habits to move more and sit less and be leaders in their neighborhood.

How can we help prevent obesity, cancer and other chronic diseases? “Exercise”, organized sports and recreation are great but I believe that embedding walking and biking into our daily routine is a significant part of the answer.

We know that walkable/bikeable towns and cities designed around people and place increase physical activity for people of all ages.

We know that kids who learn to move young (real young!) — like in preschool — are more likely to move as adults.

We also know that adults who move more are healthier, happier, and better connected with their community.

That was the vision for Norte, an organization that administers Safe Routes To School programs to empower kids to actively get themselves to school and advocates for best practice walk/bike infrastructure in neighborhoods to benefit people of all ages and abilities here in Traverse City, Michigan. Everyday we’re helping to build strong communities by empowering the young and young at heart to be happy, active, healthy for life — and for less cancer.

I think my dad would be proud that. I can’t wait to go back to DC.