Nicole Sin Quee ’89 does not brake
She’s a star athlete, a champion for children of color and Triathlete magazine’s cover contest winner
When Nicole Sin Quee ’89 signed up for her first triathlon, she wasn’t seeking a lifetime of athletic excellence.
Amherst College, Sin Quee’s other alma mater, had a triathlon tradition. Winners were named “Athlete of the Week” in the student newspaper and “Bob’s Player of the Week’’ at a local barbecue joint. “I wanted to be Bob’s Player of the Week,” Sin Quee said. “Fame and fortune, not so much.”
The youngest of six daughters born to Jamaican-Chinese parents, Sin Quee was raised in Trenton, N.J., after she emigrated from Jamaica when she was eight years old. Sin Quee is from an athletic family; her uncles and cousins were on Jamaica’s national badminton team. And she was a member of the track and field team at Peddie. But Sin Quee’s passion for multisport competition did not truly ignite until she discovered mountain biking on the trails around Amherst College.
Her fellow mountain bikers at Amherst gave her a tip: Don’t use your brakes when going downhill. “I would fly down hills like I had nothing to live for, and it was freeing and scary and so much fun.” Though she added, “It's not true that you can't use your brakes. Those guys were just mean.”
But Sin Quee was fast and fearless on her bike. She signed up for the relay triathlon alongside two other women and also decided to take on the individual event. It was not a great start: Sin Quee was the last one in the pool in the swimming event. Still, she kept her resolve. “I thought to myself, ‘The bike is yours. Just go past everybody.’ And that's what I did.
“I ended up winning.”
Sin Quee was victorious in both the individual event and the relay. Today, she views the race as an opening chapter. “It was an accomplishment,” she said, “but that’s not the end. Whenever I do my races, I think to myself, ‘This is not the end.’ I want to be a lifelong athlete. I want to be a lifelong learner.”
Sin Quee’s relentless pursuit of self-improvement — and the support of her husband and coach Jonathan Cane — has propelled her to the heights of multisport athletics. She recently placed top 3 in her age group at six national and world championship duathlons and triathlons. She is the reigning Off-Road Triathlon National Champion (50-54 age group), and won the Duathlon National Championship (40-44 age group) in 2012, just six months after her son, Simon, was born.
When she’s not racing or teaching mathematics at Riverdale Country Day in New York City, Sin Quee is working to help grow minority participation in triathlons. Last summer, she and her husband ran a triathlon camp for middle school students, particularly young girls of color.
At their camp, Sin Quee and Cane give campers a strong foundation in the sport, but they also teach them that a triathlete isn’t someone who wakes up at the crack of dawn every day to train, or a person with a perfect six-pack, or a person who can afford thousands of dollars in equipment and training. “To know what a triathlete looks like,” Sin Quee said, “look in the mirror.”
“Maybe we're all Olympians,” she added. “We just haven't found our sport. I think the more things we're exposed to, the more likely it is that we either find what we're good at or we learn to see our better selves in that journey.”
Along with her athletic pursuits, Sin Quee brings this philosophy to parenting and her classroom at Riverdale.
“You are here for you,” she tells her students. “You're not here for your parents or because you have to build the next generation. You're not here for me. You're here for you to find your best self.”