An important Statement published by ICNW: Pole walking - Nordic Walking - Modern Nordic Walking: Definitions, a brief history, and the development of the discipline.
Research news: More scientific evidence of the positive health effects of Nordic Walking in a study conducted by researchers from Finland, Sweden and USA.
The 20th Anniversary Celebrations of Nordic Walking in Finland, August 4-6, 2017. The summary of the historical International Nordic Walking Congress and the official video of the whole event:
Interview with Leena Jääskeläinen
Sports Counselor and Master of Sport and Health Sciences, Leena Jääskeläinen, interviewed by Tiina Arrankoski (Nov 01, 2010).
Thank you, Leena, for allowing us to interview you. We understand that you tried out “sauvakävely” (Finnish pole walking) as a part of school physical education as early as the 1960s. Can you tell us more about when and where?
“Yes, I tried it with my students when I was a P.E. teacher at the Viherlaakso mixed secondary school in 1966.”
Where did you get the idea to try “sauvakävely” with your students?
“I was an active skier myself and had practiced pole exercises for skiers during the off season, specifically uphill practice with poles. The skis and poles at the school where I was teaching were in very little use, so I decided to take the opportunity to use the poles in a more versatile way, which also allowed me to make the P.E. lessons more efficient. I also used the poles as a gymnastics tool in combination with other pole exercises.”
At this time, or earlier, where there other P.E. teachers trying “sauvakävely” or pole exercises as a form of physical exercise in schools?
“I don’t know of any others, but it’s likely that I was not the only one, as many of the P.E. teachers were also active skiers, or used to be. So, pole exercises in the summer were probably familiar to all of them as a training method.”
Did you incorporate “sauvakävely” and pole exercises into the curriculum as a lecturer in the Faculty of Sports Science at the University of Jyväskylä from 1968-1971?
“Yes, “sauvakävely” was often a warm up or complimentary training for us. As I was the first lecturer of women’s sports in the Faculty of Sports Science in Jyväskylä, I was interested in any kind of development or experimentation.”
Did you also promote “sauvakävely” as the superintendent of girls physical education on the National Board of General Education from 1973-1991?
“Yes, I did. “Sauvakävely” was one of the sports at the teacher training days I organised. The theme was “new ideas for school sports”. At this time, girls mainly walked during P.E. classes, so intensifying walking by using poles was a very meaningful and feasible idea. YLE TV1 (the main TV channel of Finland's national public service broadcasting company YLE) even broadcast in 1987 a small TV program that included, in addition to an interview with me, a demonstration of "sauvakävely" by me and the girls at the Myyrmäki upper secondary school.”
Is there any information on how many teachers introduced “sauvakävely” to P.E. lessons in schools, and with what success?
“Unfortunately there are no statistics on the subject, but I’m sure many P.E. teachers at least tried “sauvakävely” during P.E. lessons, with some incorporating it into lessons relatively regularly. The discipline became especially popular in sports institutions across Finland in the early 1990s.”
The first documented case of Nordic Walking in a public event was your attendance at the Finlandia Walk in 1987. Could you please elaborate on your experience?
“I had agreed to walk the 38 km distance with men who were in extremely good shape, such as Tuomo Jantunen and Osmo Niemelä (Chairman of the Finnish Orienteering Federation). I had decided to take my poles with me, firstly, to promote pole walking, and secondly, to ensure that I would be able to keep up with them. This also gave me the opportunity to advertise how you can speed up and intensify your walk with the help of poles by letting my fellow walkers test out the poles as they were walking. As I was walking I exclaimed, “This is the sport of the future!” to a confused-looking reporters from Aamulehti (a Finnish daily newspaper).”
Were you present at the march to the memorial statue of Lauri “Tahko” Pihkala (an important figure and philosopher of Finnish sports) in 1988 that was considered the first public event of Nordic Walking?
“Yes I was there, but not marching. As the chairwoman of the Tahko Pihkala Society and head of the statue committee, I was already at the statue preparing for the live radio broadcast while others were still marching.”
When did people begin using the term “sauvakävely”?
“At the beginning of the 1990s, the terminology still was not clear and as chairman of the Tahko Pihkala Society, we discussed multiple options. At the time, we were of the opinion that the term “sauvakävely” should mainly be used when poles were being used for rehabilitation and support. Terms such as, pole training and pole exercise were better suited as more general term of the discipline. However, the term “sauvakävely” quickly established its place in popular Finnish language in the beginning of the 1990s. In the end, the most important thing is that everyone knows what it refers to.”
So Nordic Walking is actually a great term to describe “suomalainen sauvakävely” (Finnish pole walking), whose technique has traits similar to cross-country skiing?
“Exactly! Although it is a shame that it took an unnecessarily long time for it to become a popular form of exercise among the public, considering that we first started promoting it already in the 1960s. On the other hand, the prefix “nordic” implies that it is somehow an invention from the Nordic countries, when in reality its roots are solely Finnish. So why was it not called Finnish Walking in the beginning?”
Nordic Walking is now captivating practically the whole world and its popularity keeps growing. As one of the first pioneers of the discipline, how does this make you feel now?
“No amount of money beats the feeling I get when I see someone pole walking. I feel the most joy when I see regular people, especially more senior citizens, practicing Nordic Walking. It seems that people aren’t embarrassed to use poles when walking anymore, at least in Finland.
I hope that Nordic Walking perseveres as a form of healthy exercise, and that it doesn’t develop into a competitive sport. It’s a discipline, not a sport. There is a clear difference between the two terms in the Finnish language.
I have also wondered if Nordic Walking would be as popular as it is today without the effort that I have put in, and this is a question that I will never be able to answer. However, I am grateful that I have been in positions that gave me the opportunity to raise awareness of the discipline.”
Thank you, Leena, for this interview, as well as all the work you have done towards “suomalainen sauvakävely”, Nordic Walking!
"This is the discipline of the future!", exclaimed Leena Jääskeläinen at the Finlandia Walk in Tampere in 1987. (Photo: Björn Holmberg).
Leena Jääskeläinen with schoolgirls demonstrating "sauvakävely" at YLE TV1 program on Dec 13, 1987. (Screenshot from the TV program video, with the permission of YLE.)