AOK elders have ‘walked’ to Sudbury, challenge others to catch up with them

AUNDECK OMNI KANING—A hardy and determined group of First Nation elders don coats, boots, scarves, hats and mittens before firmly grasping their Nordic walking poles and heading out into the brisk winter air. As they step out under a bright blue winter sky the team has their eye on the finish line, today they will reach their first goal of walking far enough to have reached the city of Sudbury.

This very personal group odyssey had its beginnings in the warm and “lazy” days of summer, when on July 8, 2014, Mnaamodzawin Health Service provided their personal support workers (PSWs) from the Homecare Program an opportunity to take the Urban Poling Activator Course taught by Louise Hickey.

“Urban poling, also known as Nordic walking, is a fast growing fitness trend in North America,” noted Debbie Selent, home care nurse manager with Mnaamodzawin Health Services. “It is a fun full body workout that is good for all ages. The activator course is geared to older adults and helps with balance and stability issues.”

The PSWs became certified instructors and the competition began between the elders of the five First Nations that Mnaamodzawin services, Whitefish River, Sheguiandah, Aundeck Omni Kaning (AOK), Sheshegwaning and Zhiibaahaasing.

“We calculated how many steps there were in a kilometre and then we set our goals to walk to Sudbury, 167,640 steps,” said Ms. Selent. “To keep everyone motivated we went to Farquhar’s for a treat when we reached 9,240 steps and had lunch at Tim Hortons when we reached 73,920 steps.”

The challenge started on August 7 and the goal was officially completed on January 9, 2015 by the elders of AOK, led by Mnaamodzawin Personal Support Workers Debbie Shawanda and Sylvia Dawson Orford .

“Blowing snow and cold temperatures did not deter the group. They are truly an inspiration to their community,” said Ms. Selent. “The regular walkers were Albert Lariviere, Norma Assinewai, Elaine Nahwegahbow, Liz Esquimaux, Joe Nahwegahbow, Henry Nahwegahbow, Jo-anne Esquimaux and Shirley Abotossaway. Andrea Nahwegahbow also came out a few times to help add to the footsteps.”

The community spirit of AOK was on full display as the elders neared the finish line. A crowd of cheering spectators had gathered to greet everyone at the finish line. The group will be heading to Sudbury for a celebration luncheon, but will continue to meet once a week and go for a walk.

“Next stop, Toronto,” one elder laughed as they headed inside for a healthy luncheon.

“Just because they reached their targeted goal and their destination in Sudbury doesn’t mean that they will be putting away their poles,” agreed program assistant Anita Recollet.  “No, this group has agreed and are committed to continue walking on a weekly basis. Congratulations to each and every one of them for being an inspiration for others to get active regardless of your age.”