Family to Run 12,000 Miles to Raise Health Awareness

The Chicoines ran through Philly last week. And yes, they stopped for a cheesesteak.

The Chicoines in Philly channeling Rocky at the Art Museum.

If you blinked last week you might have missed the Chicoines. That’s because the family, Quebec natives, were only in town for two days. They made a pit stop in Philly as part of their 12,000-mile journey running across the US and Canada.

No, they’re not (totally) crazy. The trek, which they call the Marathon of Health, aims to raise awareness about the benefits of healthy living and the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. Ed Chicoine, the father and a chiropractor back in his hometown, came up with the idea last year after years of treating patients with aches and pains associated with preventable diseases, like diabetes and obesity.

“Eighty percent of diseases treated today are due to sedentary lifestyle, and they kill people way before their time,” says Ed. “People have this concept that once you reach your 50s and 60s, it’s normal to have arthritis, aches and heart conditions. So we’re trying to get them to think about the possibility of what life could be if you really take care of yourself.”

At 57 years old and in terrific shape, Ed thinks he’s a good example of that possibility; his family, though, is an even better one. It’s a point of pride with the Chicoines that they’ve never used prescription drugs or been to a doctor for anything other than emergencies, like a fractured ankle or bad burn. Ask them what they do if they catch a cold, and they look at you quizzically until someone says, “We just don’t get them.” And on the rare occasion that someone does come down with something, hot lemon water and echinacea have them back up and running in no time.

“This is how we live; we’ve seen that it works,” says Ed. “If society did even a portion of what we do, it would save literally billions of dollars.”

He means healthcare dollars, which is especially relevant in Canada where a large portion of taxes goes to fund the state-run healthcare system. Ed’s afraid it’s driving his country to bankruptcy.

So last Christmas, he told his family his plans: He would go on hiatus from his practice and spend the following summer running across Canada. Along the way, he’d collect signatures—goal: 1 million—for an online petition urging lawmakers to make changes to the healthcare system to support healthier lifestyles.

Before he knew it, his wife and six kids (ages 18, 20, 21, 23, 25 and 27) had signed up to join him. And together, they decided to extend the trip to cover the US, too.

On May 9th, the Chicoines set out on their 10-month journey, which began in Vancouver. (A note to map readers: They road tripped from Quebec to Vancouver only to run back across Canada on foot. Naturally.) In the States, their course has brought them along the eastern seaboard through New York City and down to Philly. On Monday, they set out for DC, and from there they’ll cross Kentucky, Tennessee, and Arkansas. Then it’s down to San Antonio and over to San Diego, before heading up the West Coast and ending back in Vancouver. They’ll cover between 11,000 and 12,000 miles in all—”give or take,” says Ed.

The family takes turns, relay-style, running legs of each day’s 80 to 100 miles. Ed, the only trained distance runner of the bunch, usually goes first—he’s up the earliest, the kids say—and when he tires, someone else takes the lead. At first, the kids were only (yes, only) running six to eight miles a day. Now they’re up to half marathons—at least.

Says Ed, “Their long distance training began on day one.”

The family takes a day off from running each week to give their bodies a break. But they say the hardest part isn’t the mileage—it’s living in the RV. It’s gotten a little easier since Ed’s wife, Gaye, and daughter, Tanya, returned to Quebec a few weeks ago. Now down to six, there’s a little more elbow room in the camper—but not much.

Meal times mean a lot of veggies and protein. Ed says the family eats about 75 percent vegetarian. When they do eat meat, it’s local and organic. Breakfasts on the road usually consist of oatmeal topped with hemp, chia and flax seeds. Before or after a run, they’ll have a shake with coconut or almond milk, banana, protein powder and more seeds. Lunch is usually a sandwich, like tuna, or a wrap with beans or eggs. Dinner is veggies, a grain and protein.

“Dinner’s not complete without a salad,” says Dayna, 23.

Their favorite parts of the journey are the stops they’ve been making along the way to speak to local communities—mostly kids—about the difference a healthy lifestyle can make. Here in Philly, they spent the morning on Friday talking to students at Northeast High School.

Most of the questions, they say, are about the logistics of the trip—how much they sleep, what they eat, how far they run. But a lot of kids want to talk about what they can do to change their own eating habits.

“We always hear about sugary drinks,” says Ben, 25. “They want to know if Gatorade’s as a bad as soda.”

Perhaps their most important message, though, is telling kids it’s OK to have soda or fast food or ice cream sometimes—just not all the time.

“It’s not like we don’t eat any of that stuff. We’ve had ice cream and soda,” says Karina, 21. “But it’s not a lifestyle. It’s an occasional thing, a treat.”

Their Philly bucket list included a treat of its own—the family was determined to try a Philly cheesesteak while they were here. Of course, they balanced their to-do list with another only-in-Philly item: a run up the Art Museum steps, Rocky-style.