Everything goes better on the days Christina Nagy-Oh walks or cycles to work.
“If I don’t exercise at least a couple of times a week, I don’t sleep. I begin to go into a bit of a downward spiral,” says Christina, the busy mom of six and twelve-year-old daughters. “And walking or biking to work is an easy, practical, way to fit in some movement.”
It’s also efficient, something that Christina, 43, appreciates. “I figure, I have to get to work somehow, so it makes sense to walk or ride my bike. And if I’m on my bike, I can do a couple of errands, or cycle to the gym at lunch and fit in a workout. And the commute takes me through nature trails, which makes it really pleasant.”
When at work, Christina takes on a whole suite of eco-friendly initiatives. As program manager of environmental initiatives for the Town of Aurora, she works with the town’s community groups, staff, regional government, organizations, and citizens to help them plan and implement strategies that save energy, conserve water, reduce pollution, and otherwise reduce the community’s environmental footprint — and make it a nicer place to live. Christina partners with various environmental organizations in the region — she’s a workplace champion for Smart Commute Central York. She organized the town’s first Earth Week Fair and an electric vehicle and sustainable transportation rodeo at the Aurora Town Hall in 2016. An Eco Festival in 2017 featured speakers on composting, a guide to owning an electric car, and “organic lawn care that won’t cost the earth.”
Christina also acts as staff liaison to the town’s Environmental Advisory Committee, which provides a forum for citizens to raise and discuss environmental issues. The committee addresses issues like pool-water discharge, idling, single-use plastics, pesticide use, invasive species, and more. A panel of experts helps find ways to implement policies and address these concerns.
It’s a rewarding, if high-pressure, job — one Christina has been working toward her whole life: a childhood spent outside as much as possible, joining the “Love Your Planet” club in ninth grade, the formative book given to her by a high-school friend on how to be a green consumer: “It was the first environmental document I’ve ever read. I remember thinking, ‘I want to do something like this as a career.’”
Out of high school, she began a degree in environmental engineering, switched to science, and then left university to find a path that seemed like a better fit — in the 90s, she recalls, there was still a lot of sexism in engineering: “I had professors who told me things like women just weren’t good at 3D spatial visualization. It was very discouraging.”
After years in the workforce, Christina returned to York University as a mature student and graduated with a BES in environmental studies. She’s been working in the field ever since, juggling a jam-packed work schedule and parenting with the help of her husband, David, who retired from a high-pressure consulting job that required a great deal of travel when their second daughter was born to be a full-time parent. They’ve instilled a love of sports and cycling in both daughters. Like her mom, their 12-year-old walks or cycles to school, and David ferries their younger daughter to and from school by bicycle whenever he can. “So much of what I do is because I want to act as a role model and set a good example for my kids. Because they’re watching.”
Christina is the first to admit her active commute plan isn’t a perfect system. Sometimes the family is too rushed in the morning, and she ends up driving to work. Other days she has an appointment, or the girls have activities right after school, and again, she finds herself in the car. The right gear helps: for example, her bike has fenders, which help keep her work clothes clean. “If I’m wearing a dress, I just put on leggings or bike shorts underneath. And I keep all my work shoes at work.”
Active commuting, says Christina, isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. Her best advice is to start with a small, manageable goal: “Maybe you commit to cycling to the library with your kids on the weekend. Or you pick one day — and don’t make it a Monday — to walk or cycle to work. Or you put your bike on the back of the car and park at the commuter parking lot halfway to work and cycle the rest of the way. And, slowly, you build new habits.”
There’s another benefit to Christina’s active commute, one she freely acknowledges: it makes her a better mom.
“I live a six-minute drive from my workplace, so I don’t have any ‘unwind’ time in the car between the office and home. If I’m grumpy at the end of my workday, invariably, I’m going to take that home with me if I drive. But if I bike or walk, the exercise and nature endorphins kick in: I feel cleansed. I have more energy. And my relationships — with my kids, with my husband — are happier.”
SUSAN GOLDBERG is a regular contributor to the Whole Family Happiness Project, where she is thrilled to be able to eco-geek out on composting, reducing plastics, and other low-carbon life hacks. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Ms., Toronto Life, Lilith, Today’s Parent, Full Grown People, and Stealing Time magazines,and several anthologies, including Chasing Rainbows: Exploring Gender-Fluid Parenting Practices. She is a regular contributor to several websites, including CBC Parents, and coeditor of the award-winning anthology And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families. Susan is based in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where she can often be seen picking up cans to recycle on her neighbourhood walks.
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