By Jesse Laufer
Former Olympic rower Linda Schaumleffel started nordic pole walking (NPW) to prepare to carry the Olympic torch in 2010.
She wanted to look good on T.V, and thought improving her shoulders would do the trick.
She originally thought pole walking was silly, but after doing some research she decided it was the easiest way to achieve her goal. She already walked — all she needed to do was add poles.
After she carried the torch, she was relieved to stop using poles, until she tried walking without them.
“I discovered that walking was way harder,” she said. “I really got started because I got to compare the two activities.”
NPW is an anomaly as far as exercise goes. It started in Finland back in 1931 as a summer training program for cross-country skiers. Poles provide stability for people who otherwise might have difficulty walking long distances.
The added balance from the poles means pressure can be taken off lower joints. At the same time, pole walking advocates claim the exercise works 90 per cent of muscles, while simultaneously reducing shoulder stress caused by long hours of sitting.
Schaumleffel wishes she found the sport earlier.
Thirteen years after competing in the Olympics, she was in a major car accident. Among other injuries, she was left barely able to move for years and suffered brain damage.
“It took me 16 years to put Humpty-dumpty back together again,” she said. “In hindsight had I known about pole walking earlier, it wouldn’t have taken me so long.”
Shortly after, she started doing workshops on NPW, eventually getting involved with Nordixx Canada — a national NPW organization that provides resources for pole walkers and trainers. She’s since taught trainers throughout B.C. and Alberta.
Because of the relationships she’s fostered through Nordixx, Victoria will have a few extra pole walkers in town during the weekend.
About 25 pole walkers participated in the walk last year, but Schaumleffel expects about 60 will take to the streets this time.
They’ll come from as far away as Courtney, Kamloops, Vancouver and Calgary.
Schaumleffel said the pole walking category is not inherently competitive, but competitiveness is natural.
“Everybody says I’m not competitive,” she said. “But then they go out and say ‘damn, I want to be first’.”
New this year is team walking. Groups of walkers in quads, trios or duos will dress up in matching uniforms and work together to get across the finish line.
It was Schaumleffel’s idea, and said walking in teams promotes community, accountability, and commitment as opposed to pushing personal times.
“For most teams it’s about fulfilling the challenge,” she explained.