Orienteering blazes new trails for local runners

By Ian Davis-Leonard | Jun 06, 2018
Courtesy of: Michelle Gill Kamiak junior Zane Robertson crosses the finish line at the orienteering U.S. Junior National Championship in Holyoke, Massachusetts.

You may not have heard of it, you may have no clue what it is, but if there is one thing local orienteers want to make clear, it’s that orienteering is a sport.

“A lot of people think orienteering isn’t a sport or that it shouldn’t be thought of as a sport, but it really is,” Zane Robertson, a junior at Kamiak High School, said. “It’s like cross country, but you aren’t given a route.”

The athletic event combines the skills of navigation, like map-reading and compass usage, with the conditioning and discipline of cross country or track.

Athletes are provided with a map at the beginning of a meet and must locate different flags throughout the course as quickly as possible.

“It’s a running sport, where you have a map that shows trails … and a compass, and you are trying to navigate to different control locations in the woods,” Kamiak junior Audrey Javadoff said. “It’s basically just navigation through the woods.”

Robertson and Javadoff are two of the local runners who have found success through the off-the-trail sport of orienteering.

Both compete as members of a Kamiak High School team in the winter, despite the sport not being officially endorsed at the school, and as members of the Cascade Orienteering Club in Seattle.

Orienteering is highly popular in both Europe and Canada, and in recent years, has begun to see its popularity increase in the U.S.

The Boy Scouts of America award a Merit Badge for orienteering and the Girl Scouts have a “Finding Your Way” badge that matches a similar criterion.

Military academies and college ROTC programs nationally have also begun to form orienteering teams of their own.

“It’s running with a purpose, but you may not know where you are going,” Robertson said.

Javadoff first learned about orienteering during a physical education class, and began to competitively orienteer in middle school.

“It’s really rewarding,” Javadoff said. “Being able to think about the route in your head and it being your whole idea to find the control and completing that, it is really nice to know that you can do that.”

The sport piqued Robertson’s interest through Boy Scouts.

“I got tired of getting lost, so I just decided to do orienteering,” he said.

Robertson and Javadoff both admitted that they still often get lost during their average race. They said that it is normal to get lost for 15 to 30 minutes.

“Even if you’re lost it is still really fun, because you get to explore the woods,” Javadoff said.

Robertson added that getting lost just provides you with a future story to tell.

Both runners competed in the orienteering U.S. Junior National Championship in Massachusetts at the end of April, where their team, the Cascade Orienteering Club, placed second in the nation and received silver medals.

“It was the wildest experience,” Javadoff said. “You’re on the other side of the country, running through random woods I’ve never been through and trying to find a flag.”

The athletes credited their cross country and track experience, as well as, “a lot of compass practice” for their ability to find success on one of the sport’s biggest stages.

According to its athletes, orienteering is for people of all ages, is not a large time commitment, is low cost and only requires that you know how to read a map and compass.

“A lot of people do lack navigational skills, and I think that is really cool to have that in the back of your brain,” Javadoff said.

To get involved, runners can join an area orienteering club, print off maps for any of the public orienteering courses in the area, including the permanent course at Forest Park in Everett, or search for local events at cascadeoc.org for opportunities to join the sport.

 

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