Keeping Communities Active After Bushfires
As we reflect on 30 years of ESSA, some notable stories that we have come across over the years have been in regard to the endurance and perseverance shown by ESSA professionals and their communities after the tragedies of natural disasters. This includes the success story of the Nordic pole walking groups happening in the Alpine Shire.
Aussies are tough, and we’re made even tougher after constantly facing bushfires, floods, cyclones and droughts. Whilst the pandemic has had a heavy effect on Australia and the world, what can’t go unnoticed is the Australians who are still battling their way though the 2019-2020 bushfires. This includes a wide range of ESSA professionals who, whilst experiencing the elements themselves, continue to service their communities and provide them with much needed exercise and health services.
In early 2020, ESSA approved a variety of bushfire grants to help fund community exercise programs within bushfire effected communities as organised by ESSA members. One of these programs was the Alpine Shire Pole Walking Groups, facilitated by Accredited Exercise Physiologists Leeah Cooper (Equilibre Health) and Greta Donaldson (Alpine Active). After receiving a range of media attention and successful participant outcomes, the duo shared the impact their program, and the funding, had on their community.
The effects of the 2019/2020 bushfires on the Alpine Shire community
The Alpine Shire is situated in North East, Victoria and covers an area of 7,780km2
. We have three major townships of Bright, Myrtleford and Mount Beauty as well as Alpine areas such as Dinner Plain. Our estimated total population is around 13,000.
In January 2020, a large proportion of the Alpine Shire was under threat from the bushfire crisis and some areas were directly impacted. Alpine Shire residents were evacuated on a number of occasions during these fires and were affected by constant thick smoke and poor air quality for weeks. As practicing Exercise Physiologists in the area, we were also forced to abandon or modify our businesses due to evacuations and poor air quality. The fires placed significant strain on community spirit, the local economy, and the ability to lead normal everyday lives, including remaining physically active.
The Nordic pole walking groups
As two private practicing AEPs, we collaborated with Alpine Health (local health service) in the application for the ESSA grant, to provide eight free Nordic pole walking groups across the townships of Bright and Myrtleford. This would encourage our community to come together to enjoy a lesser-known type of physical activity in our beautiful surrounds. We were fortunate that both Leeah (AEP) and Maureen Ryland (Health Promotion Officer, Alpine Health) were Nordic walking instructors skilled to lead the sessions, so the grant was utilised to purchase seven sets of Nordic walking poles for use at the groups.
All members of the community were invited to participate, and the groups were promoted through social media, local radio and newspaper, existing clientele, and word of mouth. We had 32 people register for the groups, with many more enquiries. We utilised the Adult Pre-Exercise Screening System (APSS) to screen participants prior to inclusion in the groups. Sessions ran for an hour and included warm-up and cool-down exercises, technique instruction and drills as well as a walk on some of the local trails.