I Do It Because I Enjoy It
It’s an early summer lunchtime and I’m sat in Hyde Park talking Nordic Walking with Laura Kinnunen. Originally from Finland, Laura loves being outside and found that when she first moved to London she felt restricted by the lack of open spaces. She was desperate to get outdoors, as this was where she grew up, and she missed it.
Nordic Walking gave Laura her opportunity to embrace the outdoors in the city. Nordic Walking, or “walking with poles” as Laura puts it is a whole body workout and for Laura it has become an amazing tool with which she has built an entire community. The activity is great for everyone, but especially those who have been physically inactive, people with injuries, in rehabilitation and who have health conditions such as arthritis. There are no competitive elements which in Laura’s view gives people more confidence and encourages them to get more involved.
The main focus for Laura these days is her community. After moving to Lewisham she noticed the potential for activity in the local parks. After a little research she contacted her local NHS and volunteered to become a walk leader with the Healthy Walks scheme. Laura also mentioned to the NHS that she was qualified in Nordic Walking, which happened to be just at the time when they were looking to start some sessions. Laura paired up with another local instructor and they started delivering sessions in Ladywell Fields Park on Saturday mornings in 2011. “All that winter we only had 1 or 2 people turn up to each session” Laura tells me “but there was one man, an 85 year old who was recovering from multiple heart surgeries, who battled all through the winter in an effort to regain fitness”. In 2012 extra sessions were put on and the NHS approached Laura to be paid for the sessions. “I don’t do it for the money” she says “I do it because I enjoy it”. Laura has since become the Lead Nordic Walking Instructor for the Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Trust Healthy Walks scheme and oversees a team of Nordic Walking Instructors and has trained Volunteer Nordic Walk Leaders to lead sessions in the community.
“I keep being amazed at how the community has grown” Laura says with a smile as she goes on to tell me how she was selected by London Sport as an ambassador for the This Girl Can campaign. This was a confidence boost for Laura and gave her a sense of validation for what she does; “it was nice to be recognised” she tells me. Laura is very proud of this achievement to the point of being overwhelmed by it “it's just little me rocking up in the park and leading sessions” and she never thought it would be this popular. Her involvement in This Girl Can drove a further increase in the popularity of Laura’s sessions and has provided her with some of her most rewarding moments;
Three of Laura’s students who started walking as inactive adults have gained enough confidence and fitness to have now trained as instructors and have started delivering sessions alongside her. The community is growing from within, Laura hardly advertises the sessions, and though she has a website, Facebook page and Twitter account, her client group don't really use these, “it's all word of mouth” Laura says. Even through the recent winter her sessions have been consistently busy. There seems to be a new attitude that been adopted, led by Laura “there's no such thing as bad weather just bad clothing” she tells me. People are getting involved and benefitted physically and mentally and a real community has emerged.
As a youngster, Laura was always very active taking part in cross country skiing and dance amongst other things, but soon realised that her body wouldn’t cope with the pressures of her dream career as a dancer. She learnt Japanese in the UK before moving to Japan as an exchange student, where in a twist of fate, she ended up in a small town in Japan translating for the master trainer of Nordic Walking who had travelled to Japan to train people as instructors. Moving back to the UK she never felt confident as an instructor so she retrained, learning anatomy, physiology and exercise referral along the way. Laura has also recently trained as a yoga teacher and now teaches this as well. “It’s another great love of mine, I've always practised and now I’ve realised my dream of becoming a yoga teacher” she says.
How does Laura balance all of this with a day job? “It’s becoming more difficult to juggle the different commitments” she says “my weekends are fully committed to Nordic walking. I never leave London, trips away aren't really a factor in my life any more, but that's what I enjoy, being out there, having fun and being in my community.” Laura goes onto to tell me that sometimes she finds the administrative side a challenge and feels as though she doesn’t always respond to people quickly enough.
Laura is a reluctant role model. She comments on lovely emails that she receives from her walkers that reference her “infectious enthusiasm and passion for being outdoors”. “I have to take that on board and believe in myself” she says coyly “I am a role model and if you consider that my students have gone on to train as instructors, I’ve inspired that”.
What does the future hold for Laura? Having recently moved jobs to an environment where she feels like she is doing something really worthwhile, she still hopes to figure out a way to allow her to dedicate more of her time to Nordic walking and yoga as well. “I really want to be working with people outside. I want to be teaching and getting more people involved” Laura says. “I'll never work with super fit athletes, I'll always work with those who haven't necessarily had the confidence to get active, helping them to discover physical activity and the benefits that it can bring.”
If you've been inspired by Laura’s story and want to get involved in coaching but don't know where or how to start, check out sports coach UK’s Reach campaign. You'll find hints and tips as well as case studies about women who are succeeding in coaching
Steven Bentall, Coaching Network Manager