“I’ve never felt healthier, happier or stronger than I do today,” says certified Nordixx Pole Walking Canada master instructor and former Olympic rower, Linda Schaumleffel. “And the ironies of life never cease to amaze me.”
Nordic pole walking (NPW) is a sport that scientists from Europe and North America confirm is one of the best total body exercises around. In the last five years, Linda has seen thousands of clients improve their health and fitness with NPW.
“I make a fool of myself extolling the virtues of NPW to anyone willing to listen,”’ she says. “Often people blame doctors for not doing enough, but what are they doing themselves to improve their fitness?”
What is Nordic Pole Walking?
NPW is an easy adaption of cross-country skiing that you can do on sidewalks and trails. Finnish cross-country athletes used it as summer training starting in the 1930s.
People of all ages can benefit from this total body exercise. It gives resistance to upper body muscles and trains the body into good postural alignment, de-stresses the neck and shoulders and is gentle on knee, hip and foot joints. Poles can be adjusted to any height. “If you can walk, you can pole walk.”
It’s easy to start NPW. You just need two poles, good walking shoes and a sidewalk or trail to walk on. Linda says good quality poles and one or two lessons cost under $150. “This may be one of the best investments you ever make,” she says.
The Enchantment of Rowing
Born in Vernon, by a lake in Oyama, Linda was raised to be independent and self-reliant. Instead of dolls, her parents gave her a rowboat.
“In high school, I was tall, overweight and a classic egghead nerd,” she says. “But I excelled in sports and decided to become a physical education teacher.”
When she was in Grade 12, the Pan Am Games were in Winnipeg and included rowing. The University of British Columbia team came to train on the Oyama lake. “I was enchanted by this beautiful sport and sad because women weren’t allowed to row then.”
At UBC, Linda studied PE and longingly watched the famous UBC men’s rowing team train. But she played volleyball and coached the provincial volleyball team under Vic Lindal (a founder of Canadian competitive volleyball). Her first teaching assignment was at Oak Bay Senior High School in Victoria.
In 1973, a student teacher took Linda rowing on Elk Lake in Saanich. She loved it and, within two weeks, was on a team competing in Seattle. The next year, she was invited to train for rowing in the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal! The games had finally included women in rowing. Linda became lead rower in the coxed sweep four, a top ranked boat.
The Montreal Olympics
Her rowing coach had defected from Poland in 1972. “What turned our boat’s sad performance into spectacular results was the coach’s insistence on teaching us the ‘European-style’ of rowing, which was very different from what we thought rowing should be. This difference moved my partner and I to the head of the class!”
At the Olympics, Canada won two silver and three bronze medals, but none for rowing. In women’s rowing, East Germany and Romania came first and second in all 14 events. They were later proven to be on steroids. Linda says her most important lesson from this was “If it’s to be, it’s up to me!”
If It’s to Be, It’s Up to Me
Linda went back to teaching, then into real estate. In 1989, she was in a car accident where she sustained massive soft tissue damage, traumatic brain injury (TBI), post traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS), fibromyalgia syndrome(FMS), chronic fatigue syndrome(CFS) and agoraphobia. Her father’s words went through her mind: “There is a solution, and it is YOUR JOB to find it.” It took her 16 years to recover, but she learned improvement is always possible.
“It was a tough road. All my ‘friends’ drifted away and all my family died. I was depressed and struggled with thoughts of suicide as I sought a reason to live. A neighbour said, ‘Think of everything you’ve learned that you can teach others!’ This was a reason to climb out of the deep dark pit. The result of that long humbling experience was becoming empathetic and compassionate.”
Learning to Pole Walk
In 2009, Linda was chosen to be a 2010 Winter Olympic Torch Relay runner. “The organizers wanted to inspire people to get fit. I wanted to look good on TV carrying the torch while making the least possible effort, so I added pole walking to my walking program.
Researching videos online, Linda thought their technique was inefficient. So, she did it her way and found she’d re-invented the classic European style of NPW. “Details matter. The right ones put you ahead of the game!”
Soon, people commented on her improved posture and slimmer profile.
“I looked good on TV and, the day after, I was shocked to discover that walking with Nordic pole feels better and does more good than just plain walking,” says Linda. “It was like driving a car with 4-wheel drive, stronger, easier and more powerful. So, I’ve been pole walking ever since and the fitness benefits are still piling up.”
Investing in Something That Works
In 2012, people started asking Linda to teach them NPW. She set up classes and everyone loved it. Then, Dr. Klaus Schwanbeck in Berlin asked her to become a certified master pole walking instructor with Nordixx Canada. After reading scientific studies, Linda learned NPW positively impacts almost all the lifestyle diseases. She was investing in something that actually works!
“NPW exercises the whole body,” she says. “It straightens posture, strengthens the core, helps balance and takes pressure off knees and hips. It lowers low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL) and blood pressure, controls insulin, and strengthens bones. Age doesn’t make a difference.”
Today, Linda lives in beautiful Victoria. She’s currently building a legacy of community-based health through fitness with NPW.
In 2014, the Times Colonist 10-kilometre event established a pole walking division for all ages. There are two categories: pole walkers and competitive pole walkers. Current event manager Joe Dixon loves the idea of competitive pole walking “quad” teams!
From 2014-2017, Linda certified dozens of Nordixx Canada NPW instructors while encouraging neighbourhood NPW clubs. On Vancouver Island, there are 10 clubs, each with a certified instructor.
“Helping people learn to pole walk means they don’t need a gym membership. It’s affordable, easy, effective, convenient and sociable.”
In 2016, Linda helped Rob Fraser, fitness/wellness director at Westshore Recreation Centre, get a federal New Horizons grant to help seniors with fitness and health. “There are instructors, NPW programs, and a beautiful new Westshore walkway,” he says. “Doctors and physios refer their patients there. They know people can strengthen their muscles with help from the centre.”
Linda says it’s thrilling to create a community-based legacy of health through fitness by offering lessons, instructors and events that are also fun.
“My legacy will be ensuring NPW in Victoria lasts longer than I do,” she says. “What energizes me every day is hearing people exclaim, ‘Nordic pole walking is something I can ACTUALLY do! And it feels good!’”
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