Walking sports are more popular than ever before and this year’s Bristol Walk Fest will see the launch of three new walking sports in the city. Ahead of the big event, we caught up with local walking football player Graham Wiltshire to find out more about his favourite sport.
For those who may not know, what is a walking sport?
Walking sports are exactly as they sound – they’re the same as the standard sport except you walk instead of running. Doing a walking sport allows people to enjoy competitive team sports without the high impact or strenuous level of activity that standard versions of the same sport require.
How did you get into walking football?
I’ve been a member of Bristol United Walking Football Club for about five years. I played football when I was younger, so for me it was easy to return to a sport I love, but at a slower pace. I started walking football at the age of 66 and was reasonably fit when I began, but about three years ago I was diagnosed with cancer (multiple plasmacytoma, a blood cancer) and since that time have had several bouts of illness.
What part would you say walking football has played in your recovery?
Walking football has always been a positive for me through this period, as it has given me something to look forward to in the dark times and I have returned three times after an ill period over the last three years. I am playing at present. It’s helped me regain my fitness, and it also helps mentally to distance me from the illness. It’s also been good for social side after matches and occasional get-togethers in Bristol.
Have you experienced any health benefits from taking part?
It enabled me to maintain a level of fitness after finishing work but, more than that, it also enabled me to mix with other men who have a similar love of football, which I’ve really enjoyed.
How is walking football different from the standard football you played when you were younger?
Obviously the walking version is slower and we play on a smaller pitch, but it forces you to develop better spatial awareness as you have to consider where the other four players are so that you can make the ball do the work and do more accurate, fast passing. On a full sized pitch you would have more time to think about this, but the smaller pitch required for walking football means your reaction time has to be quicker in some ways.
What were your first impressions of the walking sport when you tried it?
It was exactly what I wanted in a sport to get fit. I did not want to run on a treadmill in a gym because the boredom did my head in and you rarely get to interact with others.
Is there a social aspect to playing a walking sport? Do you socialise more thanks to doing it?
Yes, we have two or three quizzes after the game and occasionally meet up in Bristol. There are also the tournaments that get you away for the day.
Was there anything you found challenging when you first started playing, and how did you overcome it?
Getting fit was a challenge. It took me about a month to get up to match fitness which included power walking, i.e. walking as fast as I could without running, and I did this three times a week between walking football matches.
How do you feel when you’re playing the sport? Does it change your state of mind?
It gets the heart pumping, legs moving and the brain ticking. It makes you feel good about yourself. It’s given me a real a sense of achievement at 71 years of age.
What would you say you’ve gained from doing the sport?
It gives me something to look forward to, it gets me out of the house, and I feel that I am fitter than I would be if I did not take part.
What would you say to someone who’s thinking about getting involved with a walking sport?
Join in, but take it slowly until your fitness levels build up. Too many men join and their first reaction is to think that they are 21 again and start overdoing it, which is when you’re likely to sustain an injury and not come back. If you take it slowly, you’re more likely to enjoy it and build yourself back up. You will enjoy the fresh air and it gets you out of the armchair and as your fitness comes up you feel better in yourself.
Image: Bristol United Walking Football Club