Thursday, June 11, 2009


Tom Rutlin's (2nd) Open Letter to the Nordic Walking Community - Spring 2009

In 2003 Nordic Walking Pioneer (since 1985) and Founder of Exerstride Nordic Walking 'Tom Rutlin' posted (online) an 'Open Letter' to the worldwide Nordic Walking community.

That letter can be read here: .

I recommend that you read the 2003 Open Letter first before you read his follow up "Open Letter" (spring 2009) below.

I first read that letter when I entered the industry in early 2005. I was shocked at the attitude displayed by certain members of the International Nordic Walking community. I had already been communicating with Tom Rutlin and I was so impressed by the passion and integrity of the man, that he played a significant role in my decision to pursue, what at the time was my 'fledgling interest' in Nordic Walking. My respect for and appreciation of Tom Rutlin has not diminished since that time, infact it has continued to grow.

Please note: Tom wrote the 'spring 2009' 'Open Letter' prior to the recent
highly succesful ground breaking 'Santa Monica' Nordic Walking Expo, to which he
and others leaders in the North American Nordic Walking industry made significant contributions. The event was organised and co-ordinated by INWA's representatives in North America - NWNA (Nordic Walking North America).

David Downer
Owner - Nordic Walking News

"On Bringing Nordic Walking to Its Full Potential – A Call for Unity: Tom Rutlin's second "open letter" to the Nordic Walking community)".

"In the early part of the first decade of the new millennium, it looked as
though Nordic walking was destined to dwarf like a tsunami the "running/fitness
boom" that took place in the last decades of the twentieth century. I still
happen to think that it will happen, but right now much of the wind seems to
have gone out of the Nordic walking movement's sails.

Fortunately, the intrinsic value of fitness walking with poles is so tremendous
that the sudden doldrums in which the movement seems to be at least somewhat
stalled will most certainly be temporary. How long it will take for the winds
to pick up so that Nordic walking can continue a full speed sail toward its full
potential is, in my opinion, greatly dependent on all those within the movement
beginning, for the first time, to work together on a shared message of promoting
Nordic walking to the rest of the world.

Unfortunately, the Nordic walking (NW) movement has, to this point, fallen
victim to far too much internal division and pulling in too often self-serving
directions. Instead of all involved forming any real "association" or union
from the beginning to work together to promote the incredible health and fitness
benefits of walking with poles (of almost any design and utilizing any
reasonable, proven technique), the movement has, it seems, at least seriously
wounded the goose that was laying the NW golden eggs in a foolish attempt to
make the goose lay more eggs in one manufacturer's or organization's nest than
in any others.

You'll notice I didn't say that the movement has "killed the goose that laid the
golden egg" (I believe people all around the NW globe are familiar with the
fable of the goose that laid the golden egg. In the English language, "Killing
the golden goose" has become a metaphor for any short-sighted action that may
bring an immediate reward, but will ultimately prove disastrous.) I remain very
optimistic about the future of fitness walking with poles. I also happen to
believe that "Nordic walking" is the term that holds the most promise for
helping the movement finally unite behind -- and begin working together -- to
reach its fullest potential.

That may seem surprising coming from someone who has all too often been said to
be promoting something that is "not even Nordic walking", but by INWA's own
definition of Nordic walking as "fitness walking with specially designed poles",
my "Exerstriding" (a word I coined for an activity with no other existing name
back in mid 80s) and Marko Kantaneva's "pole walking" or "Sauvakevely" (which
preceded Exel's coining of the term "Nordic walking" by about three years) are
indeed Nordic walking -- and so are any other techniques of fitness walking with
specially designed poles that people may now be promoting (or any that may be
legitimately promoted in the future).

The divisions that have characterized the NW movement to date have caused
confusion among the non Nordic walking public, as well as large numbers of
current Nordic walkers and the media -- both of whom will play a crucial role in
eventually informing the masses around the globe of the huge potential fitness
walking with poles has for their health, well being, and -- I suggest of equal
importance -- the enjoyment of the exercise.

It's time for those of us within the movement to put a halt to the squabbling
and scrambling for the largest share of the few dozen golden eggs the NW
movement has so far produced, and realize that if we can unite and begin to work
together to build the movement to its fullest potential, there will soon be a
giant pile of golden eggs, as well as countless millions more people around the
globe benefiting from this exercise form.

Many in the "industry" have to this point spent far too much time and energy
trying to disparage other people's offerings to convince just a few million
NWers to buy their brand or service, and not another. And NW associations have
too often spent their limited resources seeking to carve out the largest piece
of a small NW community pie rather than working to grow the community that can
ever-expand the NW pie.

NW manufacturers and organizations have tried to convince people that only
equipment of a certain design, with certain features and the technique they
align themselves with, can make NW a fulfilling and beneficial experience. This
has severely limited the growth of the movement. Rather than competing for the
largest piece of a 10+ million participant Nordic walking pie, we might all have
been far better off had we been working together to grow the pie to what could
have easily have been well over 100 million participants by now.

The truth is that walking with quality poles of just about any design, and
utilizing any of the well thought out and tested techniques being offered, can
make a NW experience both greatly beneficial and highly addicting. The passion
that currently exists within the NW community is not the product of any certain
kind of poles and of following any one regimented technique. There should be
within the NW world different strokes (poles and equipment) for different folks!

The differences of opinion that exist within the NW community on issues of
equipment and technique should be what make the movement vital and interesting
to those within the movement rather than being the fulcrum that has tended to
tear the movement apart. And the exciting choices among the many "cool"
equipment designs and features and different techniques offering different
benefits and experiences should be the sources of energy and excitement that
draw both the media and the rest of the world toward this wonderful
life-changing activity!

Manufacturers must not be afraid to let the growing NW community make their own
choices from a full menu of pole designs and features based upon their various
and intrinsic merits. (If "your" poles really are better, they will outsell
others in an ever expanding marketplace.). And the NW organizations would
benefit themselves and those they seek to bring into the NW movement by
replacing their limited menu of technique offerings with a full menu of
intelligent technique and equipment options from which "newbies" can choose what
resonates best with each of them, and those which best help them meet their
goals of seeking maximum fitness results and a positive, addicting NW

It is past time that the Nordic walking establishment stop attempting to simply
exploit the market, and instead begin focusing on cooperatively serving and
expanding the Nordic walking community. The eventual outcome of Exel's history
of control and exclusion, as well as attempting to stifle rather than allow an
inevitable evolution of the activity, should serve as a warning to the movement
of the long term downside of exploiting and attempting to "control" the market
rather than attempting to actually serve the movement.

There is an old saying that "a rising tide will lift all boats". Well, it seems
the tide has sort of gone out (or at the very least receded) on the NW movement
for the moment. It's time we stop trying to sink the other guy's boat, and
begin concentrating our efforts on creating a critical NW mass that will cause
an ever-rising tide. It's time to unite and create a critical NW mass that can
create not only a rising tide, but an inevitable tsunami of NW growth all around
the globe.

I am convinced that as NW organizations finally begin "expanding their menus"
they will prove to have a great advantage over those organizations which choose
to remain mired in the kind of "right and wrong", "black and white" "us vs.
them" ways of thinking that have bogged down the movement. People within the NW
community as well as those wishing to explore NW will be much more attracted by
any organization of experts who can serve them better by introducing them to a
variety of beneficial technique options. A majority of people within the NW
movement as well as those who will over time be attracted to it just want to
look, feel and function better -- and enjoy the act of achieving those goals.

There should be numerous techniques and equipment designs offered which will
give people of all ages, abilities and goals more options from which to choose.
I have always maintained that there is no "right" and "wrong" way of Nordic
walking, only different ways of walking with poles that offer different sets of
results and experiences. The wind will begin to fill the sails of the NW
movement again as soon as those of us already in the Nordic walking movement
begin to focus on better serving the community whose passion will make the
movement grow -- by opening their minds, expanding their knowledge base and
widening their NW menu options.

It is my hope that discussion within the community of existing passionate Nordic
walkers will soon shift from those which focus on minutia regarding which
techniques, equipment and philosophy of Nordic walking should reign supreme, to
ways in which we can all begin to come together to urge any person who wishes to
enjoy the maximum health and fitness benefits of walking to explore how Nordic
walking (in any accepted form) can greatly enhance everything about the

I do think it is healthy for all involved inside and outside the movement to
join in warning "newbies" against buying cheap, potentially dangerous
exploitation poles from mass marketers who want nothing but to profit from the
Nordic walking movement (an experience with poorly designed equipment will only
serve to damage the reputation of the activity), as well as to encourage those
who come to the activity to seek instruction from any of many qualified sources.

But let's all put aside the ongoing divisive debates about the fine details of
Nordic walking in favor of joining together in a united singing of the praises
of the intrinsic value of the exercise form. I believe that when the Nordic
walking community does that, the sails of Nordic walking will once again fill
and it will very rapidly become the hottest fitness trend globally-- as well as
finally begin to make a very important impact on hundreds of millions of lives
all around the world!"

Stay well,

Tom Rutlin
Spring 2009

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