He was destined to practise Nordic walking, but didn't realise it until four years ago. Nobody would have thought that Danish-born Kike Villanueva Heimann, who has lived in Marbella since he was two months old, would become the 'king of the walking poles' at the age of 45. However, a few months ago he became the Andalusian champion for the second time (the first was in 2019 and there was no competition last year due to the pandemic), and he has just competed as part of the Andalusian Nordic walking team in the Spanish individual and regional federation championships. The team won the men's category and was runner-up in the women's.
Kike Villanueva used to be known as a five-a-side footballer, winning the Andalusian championship with Marbella FS and fifth in Spain, but he was also a successful trail runner.
After a number of years, because he was getting older and wanted to avoid injury, enjoy nature and discover new places to walk, he joined the Marbella Climbing Club (CEM) - or its Nordic walking section, to be exact.
In the past three years he has won numerous medals at a regional and national level. His most recent success, in A Coruña, was shared with four other members of the CEM from Malaga: Sonia Téllez, María Maestro, Fina Ruiz and Juan Carlos Cabello also took part and did well.
Different from race walking
Villanueva doesn't only compete in the master category, but also in the absolute general category with athletes twice his age.
"I learned to use the walking poles to compete in ultra-marathons and mountain races. This is a very social sport, it's inclusive, and you see many more people using poles nowadays," he says.
Nordic walking is very similar to race walking but there are some important differences. The main one is the use of the poles, which are similar to the ones used by skiers.
To move, you step with a marked rhythm: left foot - right stick, right foot - left stick. The race technique requires you to roll the foot from the heel to the ball with each step, maintaining a correct arm movement, and the judges penalise any walker who jumps, runs or crouches.
"From the outside it looks like an elegant, very aesthetic sport, although you can't swing your hips in Nordic walking as you would in race walking," explains Villanueva.
More and more people are taking up this sport nowadays, because age and physical condition do not matter. It only became a competitive sport six years ago.
"I consider this to be one of the most complete sports there are. You work with 95 per cent of your musculature, including your tongue because you can talk to the person next to you when you walk - well, not in a race, you can't," he jokes.
The impact of this exercise is practically nil. It's like ordinary walking, but with an inertia, a speed that burns up more calories than if you just take a walk.
"Everyone can do it, even people who are overweight. However, at a competititve level it's true that you do have to work hard on your technique and you need endurance," he says.
The visibility of the Marbella Club de Escalada and Kike Villanueva's recent successes are raising awareness of this sport. Marbella council has even included him in its Marca Marbella sponsorship programme, which is reserved for outstanding athletes in national competitions, something which has made him feel very proud. He is also proud of the fact that in 2019 the Junta de Andalucía officially classified him as a High Performance Athlete.
Many people think this sport demands very little physical effort, but the statistics show otherwise. For example, the recent Spanish Nordic Walking Championships consisted of a 14-kilometre circuit, a first lap of five kilometres and another three laps of three kilometres each. There was a strong wind, which slowed the competitors down.
Kike Villanueva managed to complete the demanding course with a time of 1 hour, 32 minutes and 47 seconds, despite having physical problems from kilometre eight onwards.
He finished fifth overall and in third place in the Veterans A category.