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Discussion: Orienteering origins

in: Orienteering; General

Aug 12, 2019 8:09 AM # 
Hey all!
Just curious, at what age and how did you get into orienteering?
I'm from Norway, and it's pretty popular there. So I started out as a kid, my I used to do it with some friends.
Now I don't have as much time, and it sadly isn't very popular where I live nowadays so I don't really know anyone who likes the sport.

How about you?!
Aug 12, 2019 9:20 AM # 
WARNING: This turned out to be a long and somewhat egocentric post.
Starting in orienteering I was dead lucky.
1) I first saw the word orienteering in the summer of 1968 when the Montreal Gazette carried a story in their Sports section about a competition in OKA, QC across the river from where I was staying in Hudson. The photo of people running out of the woods looked neat.
2) The next summer I took an Outdoor Ed option at a Phys Ed teachers' summer course. Orienteering (by air photo with written compass and distance directions) was one of the activities one day. I quickly figured out that following the detail on the air photo was much better than bushwacking on the compass bearing. My partner and I were faster by close to an hour.
3) Back at school a month or so later a student of mine told me that his father, Allan Gravelle, was organizing an orienteering event and they would like me to come. I went, did not do so well but I liked it.
4) Gravelle used the event sign up list to invite people to the founding meeting of the Ottawa OC. Once you got on his list you did not get off.
5) The next spring Gravelle held another event this time in the woods behind my school. I competed on the novice course and won. The next day my name was in the Sports section of our daily paper. From then on I was hooked!
Lucky? I think because if any of those events had not aligned (particularly the invitation to the first event and Al's follow up) I would have stayed with rugby and not started orienteering.
50 years later a bit like you I found myself in an area part of the year where orienteering was not known. Now, again with a lot of luck, I started a club which is now holding 9-10 events/ year with a total of over 2000 participants per year.
My orienteering life just keeps getting better and better.
Aug 12, 2019 9:33 AM # 
I started rogaining when I was 16.

I did my first bush orienteering event around age 24 but only did two as practice for rogaining. I didn't like it so much.

I took up MTB orienteering at age 28 and was hooked.

Took up urban orienteering at 30.

Restarted my bush orienteering life at 31 and haven't looked back, except when I run past a control (often).

I'm now 42 and competing at WMTBOC, which I first did at age 35 and will keep going until the Aus team doesn't want me anymore.
Aug 12, 2019 10:54 AM # 
First exposed to orienteering at age 17 in Phys Ed class in the USA (1978). I asked the teacher and learned that there were orienteering clubs, but didn't get any more info. The next fall, as a freshman in college, I took a Land Navigation class, where we did one military-organized course, and one organized by the local club. I picked up a club newsletter, but I was just starting college and got busy with other things. Four years later, a friend was taking that same class and I tagged along to the club event, picked up another newsletter, and joined the club at age 22. 36 years later, I've done almost 1500 courses.
Aug 12, 2019 11:12 AM # 
Being from the United States it may not be a surprise that I got into it way later in life. I was introduced to orienteering after I did about 4 or 5 adventure races in my early 40s (no athletic background whatsoever) and didn't want to get lost. Ironically had the great fortune of meeting Ali Crocker around the same time.
Aug 12, 2019 12:41 PM # 
I first heard about orienteering in a middle school gym class in the early 90s. We did a unit which spent a class or two each on some less common outdoor activities and sports. I don't even remember what exactly we did, and it may have been more on the lines of bearing and pace than actual orienteering. But then I decided to do the Girl Scout badge, and through that we met Linda Eck (at the time I believe she was the USOF/GS liaison) and learned about DVOA and SVO. Since my Mom was my GS leader, she got pulled into it too. Both of us still orienteer 25+ years later, although nobody else from my troop continued. In college I lived closer to Linda, who let me join her GS Orienteering Interest Patrol as an adult, and she got me started with attending A-meets as well.
Aug 12, 2019 12:59 PM # 
I did my first event in 2014 when living in Ottawa, Canada, at the age of 37 (interestingly, gordhun, one of the posters in this thread, was the first person I met and talked to when I came to the event). But the history is much longer. I grew up in Ukraine and learnt about orienteering as a kid. My mother tried to find a sport for me and suggested orienteering, since I liked maps, but eventually decided against it, as she thought running in forests after the Chernobyl accident was not a good idea. A couple of my friends did it, though. Interestingly, at my university doing some sport was mandatory for first-year students and when asked what sport I'd like to do, the first thing that came to my mind was orienteering (sadly, it was not an option). I did very little physical activity in my 20s and early 30s, but started to be a bit more active around the age of 35. So one day I was exercising in a park in Ottawa, saw some orange and white flags, got curious about it, searched online for orienteering in Ottawa, found the club and came to their next event.
Aug 12, 2019 1:42 PM # 
I remember that incident MChub. The Ottawa club had and still has the practice of appointing greeters for each event. That was my first time greeting. You were a great first experience and a very quick learner. Now, largely thanks to you, one of my favorite volunteer tasks is being a greeter.
All clubs should have greeters!!!!
Aug 12, 2019 1:50 PM # 
Another American here:

I've always enjoyed maps and geography, and grew up playing in woods around my home.

In my mid 30s I started running and doing road races for fitness but found them tedious. I'd recently seen a public television episode about orienteering (produced with Ed Hicks' guidance) so the word was in the back of my mind when I was searching the newspaper sports section for local road races (back in the days when they printed them there), and saw a listing for an event by the local orienteering club who'd only been in existence for one or two years at that point. We attended and were hooked (and joined the club).

I enjoy the combination of running and route choice ("orienteering: the thinking sport") and have continued ever since. I still find road and trail races boring. My kids didn't catch the bug, but attended events with us until they were old enough to stay home alone.

It's unfortunate that the U.S.A. is so large that travel distances make it difficult for some. I know of folks in states with no O clubs/maps available to them. Some enterprising few find it in themselves to organize new clubs and opportunities.
Aug 12, 2019 4:36 PM # 
My friend, Dennis Wildfogel, introduced me to this wonderful sport. We had been roomates and track buddies in our 20’s. As we did yesterday, almost 40 years later, we are still competing against each other. It has been fun to watch Dennis become an elite masters competitor.
Aug 13, 2019 2:57 AM # 
I had 2 singular points of exposure to the sport at 13 (a single group night-o scouting event) and at 23 (university elective course) ….both fun but not enough to get me hooked.
It wasn't until age 42 (under the guise of exposing our kids to the outdoors) that I truly got into the sport...~ a dozen years and counting now...
Aug 13, 2019 4:34 AM # 
I was 15, and school had an 'Outdoors Club' and was one of the 3 mandatory options (the other two being Community Service and Army Cadets). The vast majority chose the latter. The teacher in charge took 7 of us orienteering (which I'd never heard of previously) in a bit of local bush land with a permanent (illegal) course that the teacher had set up, paint tin lids nailed to trees. I liked that, and then my father took me to a 'local' orienteering event. In that same Outdoors Club I went camping for the very first time, and hiking, and paddling - none of which I'd ever done before. A very pivotal time I suspect in retrospect, but then, who knows, I may well have gravitated to those things later anyway.
Aug 13, 2019 5:31 AM # 
I was carried around a course before I could walk when my parents were students in Canada. They kept going when they headed back to Australia, so I grew up with it. Many early misadventures didn’t put me off (although being 400km from the nearest events limits my participation a bit at the moment).
Aug 13, 2019 5:37 AM # 
Are you able to walk now or do you still need to be carried?
Aug 13, 2019 6:26 AM # 
Awesome stories everyone! It's cool that we have a place to share our love for the sport :D
Aug 13, 2019 10:15 AM # 
tRicky - only need to be carried by my teammates in relays (or ARs, or rogaines...)
Aug 13, 2019 10:48 AM # 
My parents were trying desperately to find something outdoors that might interest an almost seven-year-old with no apparent interest in any sort of physical activity, and found orienteering on the advice of a family friend. Took to it pretty quickly from there, although it took a while to get on top of the running side of it.
Aug 13, 2019 5:43 PM # 
I was 50. Went to an O event to learn because I was invited to join an adventure racing team (as their navigator). I have since done more Orienteering than adventure racing events.
Aug 14, 2019 12:46 AM # 
I liked to hike, loved maps, and had read Kjellstrom's "Be Expert with Map and Compass...", so I knew that orienteering clubs existed, but in those pre-internet days, it was tough to find out anything more. I was about 25 and working in Indianapolis when I saw a listing in the "weekend - things to do" section of the Chicago Tribune, and decided to make a day trip to Chicago to give it a try and see a limited circulation movie at the Biograph. Stumbled on to the Saturday of a 2-day "A" Meet. Was told that I could not register competitively on the day of event, but after some coaxing and explaining that I'd just driven several hours based on the newspaper blurb, they let me sign up. Did pretty well and have been hooked ever since.

BUT, the big point, that I constantly stress to clubs is this... if they'd insisted that I couldn't run competitively and turned me away, I might have never come back. So I always urge clubs to be very flexible about day of event registrations - you never know who that person might turn out to be; don't miss the chance to hook them! Never turn a newbie away.

In my case that eventually led to serving 18+ years on the national board, helping found at least 2 new clubs, directing / setting 30 national events over the last 25+ years, and coaching national champion interscholastic teams. You never know.
Aug 14, 2019 5:52 AM # 
Lost Gold in Vet Mens at 2012 World Rogaine Champs by 30s/Control. ie if we had just another 15 minutes we'd have bagged a 70 pointer and won. Decided the 1% stuff counted and speed of decision making and precision was part of that. So I was 40 when I dnf'd my first Red, hadn't bothered with the easier courses. Stubborn.

Wish I'd started O much much earlier but was from an obsessive competitive Cricket family. Looking forward to M45 smackdown at Oceania :D
Aug 14, 2019 6:18 AM # 
Mine's probably a similar story to Blair except I would have been about twice as old, and the crucial contact to take it from a half-formed idea to actual reality came from being at the same school as gruver's son, at the time one of the top juniors in this part of the world. After a year or 2 I finally responded to his annual pleas to get a school team together.

I always seemed to have had some sort of fascination with maps (yes, I was a weird kid but I choose to own that) so it was a natural fit. I just wish that I'd got started a few years earlier. And also that I'd taken a lot less time to figure out that while the other key attraction to me was that it's not a sport that's all about fitness, getting the fitness sorted does make it much more fun!
Aug 14, 2019 6:32 AM # 
Given I started in my 30s, I'm not sure if I would have wanted to start any earlier or not. On the one hand my nav skills may have picked up from an earlier age and I may actually be good at it now but on the other hand, all the long term orienteers I know around my own age all have ankle or other lower leg related problems now. I think starting from a rogaining base meant I really strengthened up the ankles by walking solidly through the bush for many years rather than running and constantly wrecking my legs but then rogaining navigation is no help in orienteering.
Aug 14, 2019 9:50 AM # 
some of my fellow geology students who helped establish the local orienteering club (from the uni mountaineering club) in the early 1970s asked me if I was interested in coming to an event they were organising. I was, but more interested in another fellow student (hiya tinytoes). So my first O event was about15 years later, a local "come & and try it", with my 2 sons who also had an interest in maps but not in boring fun-runs. Tinytoes came along as the family support .
We competed at events around Australia (as family holidays), no great success for me but I enjoyed the mental and physical challenges, and involvement in the club
Drew my first computer-based map in about 1992 using software I used for geological mapping and mine planning. Still involved in mapping, but now tinytoes does all the running because of my medical restrictions (on crutches)
Aug 14, 2019 11:30 AM # 
And I started aftar being the wet weather gear minder for rest of family while they disappeared "out there". When I was no longer required to get youngsters to the Start safely I just sat around waiting. So I decided to surprise them by entering my first State League event (after 10 years of supporting) at QBIII 1998 and surprised them by winning the "open" class - equivalent to Easy level. Went on through the colours as it was then and picked up placings and wins at APOC 2000 and various State, Aus and Oceania carnivals since. Love the egalitarian nature of the sport and treasure the friendships we've made - and my third career.

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