Whenever Puan Sri Siew Toh Ee goes walking with a set of poles, people ask if she has walking problems.
Far from it, Siew is fitter than many people younger than her.
Siew is a UK-certified Nordic Walking instructor and one of a few Malaysians who have walked with poles in the Swiss Alps, trekked up Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan, and intends to Nordic Walk in a desert soon.
Those are not easy feats for someone who has just become a sexagenarian.
Nordic Walking is basically walking while using a set of specially designed walking poles. The activity originated in Finland in the 1930s when cross-country skiers used their ski poles to walk in the summer to keep fit for the winter skiing months.
Soon, other people began to do the same for general health and, eventually, Nordic Walking was born.
An avid outdoor person, Siew first got interested in Nordic Walking in 2013 when she and her friends wanted to experience the Swiss Alps on foot. They had heard about Nordic Walking and wanted to know more about it.
They then took proper lessons under an instructor in London named Martin Christie, who was the person who introduced Nordic Walking to Britain.
“We then Nordic-walked in the Alps the same year and became hooked on it!” enthused Siew, when met at her home for an interview last week.
In the summer of 2015, Siew was encouraged by Christie to become a certified instructor and introduce the sport to Malaysia.
At first she hesitated, due to the studying and exam involved. However, she eventually went ahead – and passed with flying colours.
In November the same year, she started the interest group called Nordic Walking UK Malaysia (NWUKM).
“Many people have the mindset that when walking with poles, we have leg problems. This mindset needs to be changed. The poles are helping us to walk and there is a technique to it,” explained Siew, who is also a Nordic Walking marathoner.
This form of exercise engages 90% of one’s body muscles and burns 20%-40% more calories compared to normal walking.
“Your walk will become a full-body workout and, by using poles, it takes some pressure off the knees, hips and joints as well. So, the method is also good for people recovering from illness or surgery and need to walk as a form of exercise.
Siew added that this versatile activity is suitable for people of all ages, including children.
“The poles also give you an upright posture,” she added.
Nordic Walking also boosts one’s mental wellness.
“I call Nordic Walking a green exercise because it takes you to the great outdoors. When we walk outdoors, I always encourage people to appreciate and connect with nature,” said Siew, who goes Nordic Walking three times a week, in between her yoga and gym workouts.
A Heart For Underprivileged Children
After starting NWUKM, she began sharing the activity with friends. Soon, she decided to run the programme for charity, where lesson fees collected are all channelled towards different charities.
“That way, the members become my partners for charity and I set the platform for them to give back to people.”
To date, NWUKM and its members have supported a few charities, including Angsana, a group that provides music and art therapy for terminally ill children in paediatric hospitals (Universiti Malaya Medical Centre and Hospital Kuala Lumpur)
“The work of Angsana is really worthwhile and very important as it helps relieve some of the children’s pain and give them some cheer during their hospital stays,” said Siew, her voice trailing off.
The latest charity project organised by NWUKM is Project Pyjamas, an inaugural charity walk that will be held on Jan 27 at the Lake Gardens Kuala Lumpur. (However, registration is now closed due to overwhelming response.)
The idea came about when Siew heard about a charity overseas that provided pyjamas to underprivileged children.
“I thought that was such a good idea because I believe bedtime routines are important for children,” she said.
Then, a photography trip to India – Siew is also an avid photographer – served as the impetus for the project.
“When I was in India, I visited a village in Pushkar, near Jodhpur, and spoke to some of the children there, who were mostly shabbily dressed. I asked them, ‘How often do you change your clothes?’, and they said, ‘Three to four days’.
“Then I asked them, ‘When you go to sleep, do you change into pyjamas?’ One sweet little girl asked, ‘What is pyjamas?’
“That really touched my heart and I told myself I am going home to do this charity,” Siew recalled.
Her vision is to provide new pairs of pyjamas and books to vulnerable children from homes in support of their right to a loving bedtime and better days ahead.
“I think bedtime is a vulnerable moment for these children because they have no parents to tuck them in. Some of the young ones may have some fear of the dark, too. My hope is that pyjamas and books can give them some hope that someone cares,” shared Siew.
She believes that bedtime routines, where children change into comfortable pyjamas and then snuggle up to read a book, are normal routines for many people but, sadly, many children do not have that opportunity.
“So I want to change that, slowly,” she said, with determination in her voice.
Caring For The People Around You
Through the project, NWUKM will be giving pyjamas and books to at least 565 children from 10 homes.
In the long run, Siew hopes to keep motivating people to lead healthy lifestyles, not just by exercising but also by eating healthy as well.
“Emotional wellness is also important, and it means caring for family, friends and the less fortunate.” Response towards Nordic Walking has been very encouraging.
“So many of them get hooked on it. Even in the rain, they will walk!” said Siew, with a laugh.
Siew finds satisfaction when members tell her that Nordic Walking has changed their lives.
“These testimonies really make me work harder to share the exercise with more people,” said Siew, adding that there are also cancer survivors in her group.
“I want to be a positive impact to society by introducing a better fitness option to Malaysians. And I find that Nordic Walking is the best choice. It is a good form of exercise which everyone can do. You can do it anywhere; all you need is a set of poles,” she said.