It’s January, and Iceland—battling the post-Christmas bulge—is in the midst of a fitness rush. Magazines focus on health and fitness-related topics and radio stations announce “health effort” weeks.
Even the gym here in Blönduós, which doesn’t normally do classes, is offering a four-week intensive fitness program called “Sweat, Blood and Tears”. I signed up for it, of course. It is grueling.
As I was packing my gym bag the other day, my four-year-old daughter looked at me demandingly and said: “Mama, I want to go to sports class, too”.
Of course she does. She is half Icelandic, after all.
Icelanders may be the fattest nation in Europe and the second-fattest western nation after Americans. But I have yet to meet an Icelander who isn’t doing some kind of sports.
Whether it be handball (in which Iceland boasts the most international success), football (also very popular), glíma (Iceland’s national sport and the nation’s most traditional discipline, a style of folk wrestling), horseback riding (on Icelandic horses, of course—there are no other breeds in the country), or simply going to the gym. Not only in January.
And children are especially active. I can’t give you any statistics, but just last week there was an article on ruv.is (the website of the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service) about how Icelandic kids are very physically active and not averse to trying new sports outside of school, i.e. “Crossfit”. Whatever that is.
(This may be part of the reason why obesity among Icelandic children is less common than among adults.)
And whether it be tennis, yoga, ice-skating, dancing or kayaking, there’s almost no outside school/playschool sports activity you couldn’t sign your child up for.
In the greater Reykjavík area, that is. In the scarcely populated countryside (landsbyggðin in Icelandic), options are limited, naturally.
In Blönduós, the small town in northwestern Iceland where I live, children (and adults, for that matter) can choose between swimming (in an outdoor swimming pool), football, track-and-field (in the summertime), skiing (in winter) and horseback riding—if they own or have access to a horse.
Less outdoorsy disciplines such as ballet, pilates and karate are not on offer. Not in any other town in the area either. Also, there are no programs for pre-schoolers at all. No kids dance group, no baby swimming, no nothing.
This really frustrates me. Iceland is a country where playing outside isn’t always possible, especially in the dark, snowstorm-prone wintertime.
So when you have an energetic four-year-old at home, like my daughter, who also happens to be interested in gymnastics, you’re in trouble.
Let me just say that I spend many an evening on the floor flipping her into somersaults. What will happen when my son finds out he’s into martial arts?
I’m not trying to be inappropriately demanding here. And I’m aware of the fact that this is a luxury problem.
But still. Life in the countryside isn’t terribly appealing to a majority of people in Iceland as it is. There is a reason for why the capital area comprises two thirds of the Icelandic population, and lack of opportunities in the countryside has something do to with it.
Besides, Blönduós has a modern, full-size sports hall. Why not use it? The bottom line is: I’ll need to figure something out.
Until then, my daughter is going to go to football practice on Mondays. A fellow mother just told me that they are now teaching preschoolers as well. Elísabet is so excited!
Katharina Schneider – firstname.lastname@example.org