By Alex Rosenberg
Some might ask, “Alex, how on Earth did you get involved in such an obscure sport like orienteering?” Well, this is how:
It all started in 6th grade. For the first time in my academic life I had some level of freedom. Electives! I looked down the list of possibilities. Math help, science help, social studies help, english help, theater and yoga…Instantly my hope for a self-guided future diminished. But wait! I turned over the page and there was a lone activity. This thing called orienteering. What the heck? Whatever it is it’s better than yoga. The next day I walked into the gym to see a wide smile and an orange-and-white cat-in-the-hat hat. That’s when I met Barb Bryant. We spent the next 9 weeks learning basic compass skills and map reading techniques. Honestly, I didn’t love it that much because we were mostly in a gym. No flavor, contours, or much challenge beyond physical ability.
Cut to a year later. Orienteering is the last thing on my mind. All of a sudden I get a call from this lady—Barb—that I vaguely remembered. “Hey, Alex. This is Barb, the person you did orienteering with last year. There’s a national competition in Ohio next month, and if we fundraise and train we can go.” I mulled this over for a moment. That orienteering stuff was hard but…I’ve never been to Ohio before so... “Yeah, totally. Sign me up!”
Longest. Month. Ever. Training three times a week in a Boston February is not the easiest thing to do, but it sure does get you into shape. We ran in a variety of places—urban and in the woods. We worked on attack points and pace counting. I was extremely confident of myself and my team, and wasn’t that nervous for the meet. I was ready and excited to see the wide world of orienteering.
Our visit to Ohio would not be some pleasure vacation. We were there to work, and we were there to win. Strait off the plane we had an hour drive to a training area. We did a light course, but mostly just stretched our running muscles and got familiar with Ohio terrain. The next day was to be our first race. It was a sprint race on the Miami College campus, incorporating some vegetation. My first taste at real competition wasn’t that bad. I stayed focused and only made one mistake that didn’t cost me much time. Because it was a sprint course, my relatively inferior endurance was not much of a factor. The outcome of that race for me was pretty pedestrian. I didn’t find myself at the bottom, but I also wasn’t among the top like my friend, Keegan, who got first place.
The next race was a classic-distance, and I was nervous. I needed to not embarrass myself and be trumped by Keegan multiple times. At the beginning of the race I was in the zone. I was barely even stopping at the controls, knowing exactly where the controls would be. The final control before the finish was coming up. The route was long, but seemed simple. There were two paths that intersected twice going along a long steady hill. The control was off the path, down the stretch, and in one of many reentrants.
First I turned off the path too soon and searched in the reentrants for a while. After deciding I was wrong, I continued down the path. Being gassed from running so fast, the kids I passed in the beginning began catching up with me. This only added to my confusion. I decided that I was in the right place, and went back down. Little did I know, I had overshot the control. One way or another, I eventually found the control and finished. A seven-minute mistake cost me a top spot.
The last race I was the most confident I’d ever been. I knew I could keep my endurance, and I could navigate with ease. The course had pretty simple navigation, through the terrain slowed me down. Hills drained much of my limited stamina, and that affected my time greatly. I was rarely confused, but when I was I slowed down and figured it out. I finished strong and felt good about my work. I placed top 5, and I was happy.
As a team, for our first time at a real competition, we did extremely well. We placed second in our age category, only behind a troupe of around twenty kids. We had four.
I have continued with orienteering, and hope to do so for much longer. Currently I’m training for the next Interscholastic competition in Texas. I believe we’re going to take first this year, because our team is more balanced, and Keegan and I are a lot more experienced.