Racewalking and Tai Chi

“Taiji has enriched my life and improved my resilience immensely. I am grateful to Leo for all the help and guidance he has given me” shares Barbara Nell, a World Champion Racewalker.

Barbara Nell in action

Barbara has been racewalking for over 25 years, and covered a distance of some 50 000 km’s during this time. She trains on both road and track, and has worked with many coaches over the years – each contributing in their way her preparation and technique. This had lead her to achieve world records and to winning championships.

Some of her impressive achievements include:

  • the first woman in Africa to walk a 20km in under 1:50
  • held the All Africa record for the 20km women’s walk
  • has won SA Senior Track and Field Championships 4 times
  • won the SA Road Walk senior Championships 5 times
  • attended 11 World Masters Athletics Championships
  • has been the World Champion in her age group 14 times
  • won 4 silver and 3 bronze medals from these competitions
  • competed in team events and won WMAC gold medals, silver and a bronze Medal
  • in 2000 set the W45-49 5000m racewalk World Record with a time of 24:14
  • set 4 SA Senior records, and 18 SA Masters records
  • won her age group races at the South African Masters National Championships 33 times
  • won SA Masters Provincial Championships 47 times.

As part of her development in strengthening and maintaining her muscles needed for racewalking, Barbara supplements her training with tai chi and works with a biokineticist.

“In 2009, I was injured and my Physiotherapist recommended taiji to help me build strength and improve my balance in order to avoid further injury. I have worked with Leo since that time.

Firstly, it has been great to do taiji as a complete contrast to my other training which is time or distance based. The sense of being in the present while doing the movement with no immediate objective in sight is very fulfilling. Doing Taiji has definitely enhanced my muscle strength and improved my balance which has been advantageous to my race walking.

Secondly, there is so much wisdom in this ancient practice as the entire body is worked and strengthened by the many graceful movements during a morning’s session.

She is also very much aware of her mindset, and finds that learning from her failures, not letting her walking define her, and having fun while training and competing, are also key parts of her success.

Recently she attended the World Masters Athletic Championships in Perth in October and November 2016. This event included more than 4000 competitors from some 80 countries between the ages of 35 to 97 competing in 31 events.

Barbara, on the podium after the 10km with the Australian Barb Bryant 2nd and the British Walker Cath Duhig 3rd.

Barbara participated in the Race walks in the 5000m track event, the 10km road walk and the 20km road walk in the Women 60-64 age group, where she won the 5000m and 10km walks and got the silver medal in the 20km.

Together with Lucia Willemse (W60-64) and Elsa Meyer (W70-74), they made up the South African team and they won the silver medal in the team event for the 10km (W 60-64) and the gold medal in the 20km (W60-64).

We agree with Barbara that “walking is a healthy lifestyle activity and one of the best forms of exercise” as she shared in the November/December edition of the SA Racewalking Newsletter. She further imparted that she “feels that individual endurance sport is a great teacher. She has learnt many life lessons from walking and competing. ‘In the end you are racing against yourself and trying to be the best that you can be. The most important thing for me is that it must be fun. I walk because I love it.’ ”

We commend Barbara on her achievements, and her multi-disciplinary approach to her training. May the grace and wisdom from the practice of taiji continue to give her the inner and physical strength to persist in being the inspiration she is to us, and to so many others.


To find out how tai chi can help you excel in your chosen sport, contact your Sifu, Leo Low Ming, on 0833780468.