TURKU -- Not everything we've seen in Finland has looked entirely normal to our American eyes. For instance, since we arrived on May 19 I've noticed Finns of all ages cross-country skiing without snow and skis in the springtime weather that has followed us most of our trip. Young and old can be seen walking or skating while using what look like ski poles to propel themselves forward. At first I thought this might be compulsive behavior by Finns related to the cold weather and snow that dominates the landscape here most of the year. But we soon learned that "skiing" without snow is part of a new exercise craze here. Apparently, Finnish cross-country skiers have been dry skiing as an off-season training method since the 1930s. With the help, perhaps, of the Finnish sporting companies, it has now caught on as the latest exercise fad in Finland.
To find out more about Nordic walking, as it is called, I visited members of the Turku cross-country skiing club as they gathered to begin a 90-minute jaunt after work. One of the leaders of the club, Jaakko Hilli, told me that the exercise is great for office workers who spend a lot of time on the PCs because, "it really works your shoulders."
The group of 20 warmed up and then quickly took off along a trail that disappeared into a thick forest. I followed along taking photographs and soon found myself near the back of the pack, where I met Elina Alonne, a tall Finn who now lives in Houston, Tex. She is back in Finland to visit her family and was encouraged by her brother to try the new sport. She just started a week ago and plans to continue doing it back in Texas. "My neighbors will probably think I'm crazy," she told me.
(You can hear her interview here.)
After 10 or 15 minutes of following the Nordic walkers, I decided to turn around and head back to my waiting host. But I was lost in the woods among a maze of trails leading in all directions. Fortunately, I had a cell phone and called my host who then gave his location to a passing jogger who was out for a run with his dog. He kindly walked me back to where I started.
The next morning my colleague, Bob Kaiser, who takes a daily walk, tried out the Nordic skis. He came back looking invigorated, a little out of breath and perspiring. The walking poles definitely added an extra bit of workout to his daily walk.
Don't be surprised if you see either one of us doing the Nordic walk somewhere in Washington, D.C., after our return.
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