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Discussion: Precautions for older orienteers

in: Orienteering; Training & Technique

Nov 28, 2011 12:56 PM # 
Posting this in a separate thread in order to keep it out of the one for news and well-wishes for George...

The notion has been put forward that for things like setting or retrieving controls for a rogaine in rugged, remote territory, people over 40 should not be allowed to go out alone, due to the possibility of cardiac problems.

Correct me if I'm wrong in my understanding of the general idea.

As an orienteer who is 10 years past 40, I'm rather unconvinced. First, I'll note that this issue came up due to a case of an orienteer who is 64 having a heart attack, albeit one who recently did some support work for a rogaine and reportedly displayed some symptoms at the time.

I asked whether the notion should apply to mapping. In that situation, (depending on the area), the mapper will be going out for the whole day to places that are off-trail, and where he is unlikely to be found in a timely manner if incapacitated. Vlad was less concerned about this because it is not part of the insured event. On the other hand, if we are talking about a professional mapper, one who is going out there because the orienteering group is paying him to do so, perhaps there is an even greater concern of liability.

Something related that has been discussed in the past is whether orienteers over some particular age (75?) should be assigned a "shadow" at A-meets, someone to follow and be ready to provide or call for assistance if the elderly person should, e.g., fall and break a hip. (The discussion brought up the idea that attractive Team members of the opposite sex would make ideal shadows and might not be resented.)

Discuss away, if you find this topic to be of interest.
Nov 28, 2011 2:44 PM # 
Only when they can fall and break a hip AND weather is such that this injury is immediately life-threatening. Which means, healthy people probably shouldn't be on the course, either. My concerns are about things that are immediately life-threatening, AND that can be remedied if there is company, AND there isn't enough person-density on the course/during the event for the help to be quickly forthcoming.

I know of three immediately life-threatening, remediable situations that have so far occurred: (1) heart issues (either Vtach or infarction—morphology-related issues are probably not remediable); (2) femoral artery puncture; (3) wild animal attacks. (Orienteer mortality at, or related to, events is highest from yet another category, motor vehicle accidents, but these are not remediable using the proposed solution.) In all three cases company helps, and so should be provided.
Nov 28, 2011 3:27 PM # 
A satellite phone with a panic button (SPOT) or an option to respond at a certain time interval, would be better option than the buddy system. I would think a system like this could be used by most lone excursions where liability may be an issue.
Nov 28, 2011 3:30 PM # 
Would a satellite phone be able to escort someone (who's seriously injured and is bleeding/lacking oxygen to the brain) out of the woods or perform CPR?
Nov 28, 2011 4:35 PM # 
The phone would summon help or in the absence of a check in signal the responsible person could initiate an emergency call. I don't think the satellite phone has the ability to perform CPR. But a MacGyver type person could rig the phone to become an AED in a pinch. Even if you do use the buddy system, a sat phone would be an essential device for certain emergencies.
Nov 28, 2011 4:50 PM # 
The one serious cardiac problem I'm familiar with, by the way, involved someone who had a heart attack within sight of other orienteers, including people who were qualified to administer CPR and did so. It was within a couple of hundred meters of a place where an ambulance could drive to. All to no avail, we lost him.
Nov 28, 2011 4:57 PM # 
I believe that one was morphological and the problem was known to exist for a long while, and the person had chosen to accept the risks. My concern is about remediable problems. Had George Minarik experienced his problem while setting my course, his would have been remediable by the proposed solution.
Nov 28, 2011 5:25 PM # 
The person I mentioned had had recent symptoms and testing, which at that point was inconclusive, and there was not a clear diagnosis of a heart problem.

To be clear, I have no problem with your instituting a policy that requires people to double up when working on meets that you are in charge of, as you see fit. A policy that others in OUSA would be required to follow is a different matter -- it wasn't clear if you were heading in that direction.
Nov 28, 2011 5:39 PM # 
I'm not proposing requirements. I am suggesting common sense.
Nov 28, 2011 6:48 PM # 
This just seems like a non-issue to me. Certainly reasonable precautions must be taken, but the status quo seems perfectly reasonable to me. Generally there is a first aid kit, possibly an EMT or ambulance at the event center (of a big event), cell phone service or knowledge of how far the drive is to get cell service (or a satellite phone rental for the weekend). For ARs there might be certain required equipment.

It just seems to me that enforcing 2-person teams for everything is a reduction-to-absurdity. It's a disincentive for getting people exercising and participating in events.
Nov 28, 2011 7:01 PM # 
enforcing 2-person teams for everything

This is what I wrote before. Please do not distort my proposal.

Please also note that my stance applies to rogaines set in large, remote, rugged areas without cellphone coverage, not to relatively more vanilla orienteering events. There shouldn't be a difference for competitors vs. course setters/pickers; if you don't want your competitors to be there by themselves, the same should apply to course setters, and the reverse is true, too—no reason for special precautions for event staff if they aren't in place for the participants.

I also believe that if I had required people to go out there in groups for events longer than 4 hours, and my staff went out there by themselves (for longer than 4 hours) and had a serious problem, then a moderately skilled lawyer would have no problem making a negligence argument against me whether I had required my staff to sign waivers or not. The argument would be that normal and customary precautions were available and not taken, therefore negligence.
Nov 28, 2011 7:17 PM # 
I think a central issue here is whether there is a reason to think that people under the age of 40 can be considered reasonably safe by themselves, but those over 40 need to be in pairs. I don't think you'd let people under 40 compete in the rogaine alone. If everyone needs to be in pairs for things like setting controls, well, that's an evenly handled precaution. But this thread is about precautions for older orienteers specifically, where the appropriate cutoff for "older" is subject to debate.
Nov 28, 2011 7:19 PM # 
I start to agree that it's perhaps also unwise to allow those under 40 to go out alone for an extended duration. Data doesn't support a significant risk for those under 40, but it's better to be evenly handed.
Nov 28, 2011 7:32 PM # 
Having spent considerable time adventure racing with a team in some very remote locations during the day and at night, the most common life threatening situation I've encountered while bushwhacking is the "dead tree accidentally knocked over by one guy that just misses his teammate". Another common incident is the "rock dislodged by one competitor that falls down toward another". Sadly, this latter type of accident caused the best-known fatality in North American adventure racing.

Don't get me wrong... I'd rather be out in these remote locations with someone else - even though I have yet to knock a tree or rock onto myself while orienteering alone. But I'm not always safer because I'm with someone else!

As JJ says, if an event organizer has a personal experience (as T/D does) that causes them to worry more about a particular type of risk, e.g. age-related cardiac risk vs. all the other kinds of risks, that is their prerogative. But it certainly shouldn't become a standard. When we go into the woods, we accept all kinds of risks, many of which are not age-related - lightning strikes, bear attacks, snake bites, hypothermia, myopic hunters, etc. - not to mention potentially hidden health problems like aneurysms.

A SPOT tracker is a good investment and I always carry one when we test the 24-hour adventure race course we design each year. If I choose, I can broadcast our track and someone can check that we are moving in the right direction in the right timeframe. We can also signal for help if needed. My personal choice is not to go course testing alone in remote areas but my co-race director sometimes does.
Nov 28, 2011 7:34 PM # 
Ah, while I was typing that comment, I see that the age-related portion of the proposal seems to be on its way out. That is the major point I disagree with.
Nov 28, 2011 8:10 PM # 
Full disclosure: Indeed this may be too affected by personal experience ever since I personally went into a random-ish rhythm almost exactly a year ago while course setting at Coe, and several times afterwards.
Nov 28, 2011 9:10 PM # 
Atrial fibrillation?
Nov 28, 2011 9:54 PM # 
Indeed this may be too affected by personal experience....

When you were 37.

Not dismissing the medical concerns, the logic of the solution escapes me.
Nov 28, 2011 10:46 PM # 
Most likely wasn't full-on Afib, just runs of premature atrial contractions. I didn't die nor was compromised in any way, I was able to get going faster but the experience was still quite disturbing. The original logic was based on that there weren't any dead orienteers noticed in North America from medical conditions between ages of about 20 and 40. And the proposed solution, Peter, has been modified. No solo course setting over 6 hours at Get Lost!!'s events regardless of age. All other clubs/entities may take their chances.
Nov 29, 2011 12:47 AM # 
From my perspective as an aging rogaine enthusiast, there are some objective differences between going out in the woods, alone or with company, to hang rogaine controls or pick them up compared with participating in a 24-hour event. In general, these differences drop the risk a lot for the person going out for setup/pickup activities compared to racing. One big difference for me tends to be a matter of average pace, pqrticularly in the mode of setting controls. There tends to be quite a lot of relatively slow motion in the immediate vicinity of controls, checking out that the map and terrain look good in comparison with one another while coming in from various different directions. But also in transition between controls one has to be continually on the lookout for discrepancies between map and terrain. Because there hasn't been the extensive advance field-checking of the map that would be expected on a normal orienteering map, it is important to take advantage of time in the field to do whatever corrections can be handled for the map. In the race, one is just getting from one control to the next as fast as possible. For me I would guess there is likely a difference of at least 20 or 30 bpm in the heart rate. That is a big difference in the strain on the heart. The duration of an individual trek into the woods is for me likely to be no more than eight or ten hours when hanging or retrieving controls, quite often with a trip back to the car for food and water somewhere in the middle of the day. This is compared to the 24 hours of the actual rogaine. The course setting and control retrieval operations are all done in daylight, not half the time navigating in the dark by headlamp as would occur during the race. If I do go out alone on a loop before or after the event, I leave my planned itinerary, along with some sort of pre-determined potential bailout plan, with somebody in advance. It is generally a less-demanding itinerary than I would try in the same length of time in a race, and without the time pressure, it is much more likely to be adhered to closely than a pre-race flight-plan that has been filed with the organizers at the beginning of a race. The absence of time pressure also removes a level of emotional stress, and helps remove the potential for bad decision making caused by competitive urge to keep pushing on even if the body isn't feeling quite right. If the day is too hot, or humid, or dry, or rainy, or windy, it is always possible to quit early and go directly home while in organizer mode, but judgment is often one of the first things to get turned off in competition mode. In general, I prefer to go out in the woods with one or two other folks for company, and that is mostly the way things work out. But there are many occasions that the "usual suspects" are tied up with other projects, and I would hate to give up any time I have available to go out for a few hours in the woods simply because of a 2-man rule. During winter in either very cold conditions or with very deep snow conditions I am much more willing to be constrained to going out with a companion. That is because I consider the hypothermia risk subsequent to some accident, while still unlikely, to be very highly reduced by the presence of a companion.

My personal plea would be to devote less attention to trying to save me from myself by restricting my time alone in the woods! Efforts that would have more statistical value for the population at large (though presumably not those served by this particular website) would be to do more to limit the activity of those who smoke cigarettes, or who insist on driving while drunk or distracted.
Nov 29, 2011 1:23 AM # 
Speaking of driving, I would like to see the relative risk of a serious or fatal car accident while driving to a meet vs the risk of a heart attack while in the woods.
Nov 29, 2011 1:58 AM # 

I suspect some people on this thread might be exposed to more stress setting controls as an organizer than finding them as a competitor.
Nov 29, 2011 2:30 AM # 
My personal plea would be to devote less attention to trying to save me...

Indeed. All of us "over 40's" must confront our own mortality. And as the end approaches, we wonder how...when...why???

We could perhaps keel over while orienteering, cross-country skiing, or even playing golf in freezing temperatures, late in the season, all alone. Despite the outpouring of affection for George, we live in an age of increasing lonliness...lower marriage rates, divorce is common, and old age means a solitary room in a nursing home. Take for instance Wolfgang Dircks:

Wolfgang Dircks was found dead in his apartment...slumped in a chair in front of his TV, which was on. A TV listing was on his lap. He had no friends, no family. He was so anti-social the neighbors didn't check on him. Rent and utilities were deducted automatically from his bank account, which had plenty of money. When he was eventually discovered, he'd been dead FOR FIVE YEARS!

Perhaps some of us would rather die in the woods...
Nov 29, 2011 3:23 AM # 
Die all you want, just not on my watch. It's bad business to have dead participants or staff. Your right to die does not trump my privilege to not get sued. More slogans to come.
Nov 29, 2011 3:30 AM # 
Interesting. Dircks was apparently discovered when the bank account ran out and the landlord came looking for the rent. The TV was no longer working, but the date of death was established from the TV listing guide on his lap. The odd thing was that somebody had apparently been periodically emptying his mailbox all that time, but nobody knows who. He was retired (on disability?), and died at age 43.
Nov 29, 2011 3:31 AM # 
might be exposed to more stress setting

There were SPORTident units, flags, and several gallons of water.
Nov 29, 2011 3:31 AM # 
"I'll give you my compass when you pry it from my cold, dead hands"?

Just figuring the other point of view will need some slogans as well. ;))
Nov 29, 2011 3:34 AM # 
I don't think he meant physical stresss due to the weight of the gear, but rather psychological stress due to the importance of getting everything right, and the likely backlog of other meet-related duties still awaiting attention.
Nov 29, 2011 6:49 AM # 
Damn! I just turned 40 and now I learn I'm practically on my death bed. What a depressing thread!!
Nov 29, 2011 8:27 AM # 
From my perspective (and I suspect many others of my vintage), exactly how I'd like to go, and you can bury me at the spot! Appreciate your concern JJ, but why bother?
Nov 29, 2011 10:41 AM # 
Simmo; Do we need a new symbol for our maps? Would the new symbol be brown or black? What shape? Would the feature be uncrossable?
Nov 29, 2011 1:24 PM # 
Simmo: I'm not particularly advocating any of this, I'm just trying to get the discussion out of the "George Minarik" thread. (Other than the issue about the shadows for very old people, which actually comes from some experiences at meets when we had people with failing faculties going out on courses and getting overly bewildered, and it seemed like a good idea to have somebody go with them to make sure they could get back okay if they forgot why they were out there.)

wilburdeb: Well, obviously black. ISOM2000 symbol 532. (Incidentally, the remains of the cardiac failure victim mentioned above did wind up on an orienteering map, not the one where he met his demise, but one that he had worked on.)
Nov 29, 2011 1:50 PM # 
Quite a fine map and legacy.
Nov 29, 2011 3:01 PM # 
Here in Western Australia we have had several vops (over 80 - years not numbers!) orienteering. Currently they are all either retired from O, or deceased (not on a course!). We never provided shadows, and they got on ok, if somewhat slowly. Organisers were resigned to waiting for them sometimes. It appeared that the vops grew to realise their limitations and gradually demoted themselves from hard to moderate, then to easy level courses.

There have been a couple of cardiac-related deaths at events in other Australian states, though I think these would be people around my age rather than vops.
Nov 29, 2011 3:17 PM # 
An ISOM2000 symbol 532 is located in the appropriate location of that map.
Nov 29, 2011 9:01 PM # 
The 532 symbol is related to a stone or monument. I would choose a symbol like the one below:
From Drop Box

The symbol would be oriented in the same direction as the feature. I would use a different symbol for those features that became that way before their 40th birthday.
Nov 29, 2011 9:18 PM # 
Don't forget a version for the ladies so that one doesn't confuse features of different gender. Perhaps a different color would do.
Nov 29, 2011 9:27 PM # 
There is a monument at the site, plus many tears.
Nov 29, 2011 9:55 PM # 
Maybe the French are a little ahead of us after all - in requiring medical certificates in order to be allowed to orienteer?
(jj (just joking!))
Nov 29, 2011 10:09 PM # 
Does anyone really think that people under 40 have the experience, wisdom, maturity to be trusted out in the woods alone?
Nov 29, 2011 10:39 PM # 
See where Vlad is coming from. I think the greatest stress at an orienteering event is experienced by the course setter and organiser as they wait for the first competitors to finish each course successfully. Being in my mid-50s, I have long ago concluded that stopping organising would be the best way to protect my cardiac health. Just stick to competing.
Nov 30, 2011 12:07 AM # 
I think the greatest stress at an orienteering event is experienced by the course setter and organiser as they wait for the first competitors to finish each course successfully.
In my experience the greatest stress is waiting for the first competitors to finish their courses on your brand new map, so they can tell you if it's any good. :)

Wilburdeb's symbol is fine for under 40s, but for over-40s it should be grey.
Nov 30, 2011 1:34 AM # 
See where Vlad is coming from. I think the greatest stress at an orienteering event

The original concern was about people putting out checkpoints and equipment for a duration of time for which you don't want competitors to go out by themselves, only in pairs. After hearing a lot of what had been said, I think the sport has a serious problem in its attitudes towards safety. It's all fun and jokes until {someone's gone, you get sued and the insurance rates go up} (pick what you care about). It's telling that Orienteering USA only started to require medium-seriousness safety precautions when they almost lost some kids due to hypothermia. I also feel that I am alone in my concerns, so I'll shut up and worry about my insurance and let Orienteering USA (not) worry about its.

P.S. The falling boulder, given all available info, to me seemed all an issue of proper course setting/attitude towards participant safety, and not a freak accident. A different sport though.

P.P.S. We're fortunate Rod, Gail, and Neil had the correct idea 30+ years ago.
Nov 30, 2011 1:43 AM # 
I think it's reasonable to question safety measures and the status quo.

But, if someone is three hours deep in the woods when they have a serious medical issue, what would a partner be able to do to help? Indefinite CPR? Carry the injured person out? (Not likely.) Run back to the car for help? (At which point, having told someone "check for me if I'm not back by 5pm" might be equally as effective.)

I'm not sure what purpose it would serve to be in pairs if you're in a really remote area, when a SPOT might be equally effective (or even faster) at getting a rescue.

(And, BTW, one of the main reasons I never do ROGAINEs is the prohibition against solo participants. I can see why you wouldn't want people out alone for 24 hours, but 8- and 12-hour daylight events should definitely allow solo my opinion.)
Nov 30, 2011 1:58 AM # 
For some medical issues, a partner can be of help. For others, not. Broken ankle is probably a lot more likely than heart attack, and a partner can definitely be helpful in that case. The thing about rogaines that makes them different from regular orienteering is that the area is bigger, and the organizers really have no idea what route the competitors are taking, without retrieving intention sheets. That's not the case for control setters.
Nov 30, 2011 3:52 AM # 
P.S. The falling boulder, given all available info, to me seemed all an issue of proper course setting/attitude towards participant safety, and not a freak accident. A different sport though.

People dislodge rocks on slopes all the time; it is not unusual. That particular large boulder (Primal Quest 2004) was dislodged because some, if not all, of 8 people (2 teams) travelling together put weight on the boulder as they descended a steep gully (which arguably shouldn't have been such an attractive route choice but rockfall accidents can happen just about anywhere). The boulder gave way when the 8th person touched it, and it killed the racer lowest in the gully. Had he been alone, this would not have happened.

My point there was that the most common life-threatening experiences I've had in remote adventure races have been the result of being around other people, i.e. near misses by falling trees and rocks. I brought this forward as a counterpoint to the randomness of the "age = cardiac risk" argument which is no longer on the table. Personally, I'd still rather go out there with teammates.

I do think Vlad's concerns are valid and worth being discussed. If the discussion had started there instead of with a proposal to chaperone masters athletes, most of us would have been predisposed to offer more constructive input. (You'll understand why when you're older, Vlad. :) )

As a longtime adventure racer, keen rogainer and co-director of Canada's biggest 24-hr adventure race, I've long been amazed at a couple of differences between rogaines and adventure races. It's inaccurate to suggest that adventure race organizers have a lesser "attitude toward safety".

- Mandatory gear for a rogaine is often along the lines of "whistle, water bottle, watch". There is much more mandatory gear in AR which may include emergency blankets and/or tents, first aid supplies, waterproof matches, warmth layers, raingear, etc.

- In some shorter adventure races in remote terrain in Ontario (up to 8 hours), we are asked to carry FRS radios and/or cell phones. For longer races, it is typical to carry VHF radios or satellite phones. SPOT trackers are becoming more common in addition. I managed the headquarters for our 24-hour race last summer, and I took several VHF radio calls from teams in trouble. I knew exactly where they were based on their SPOT track and could help them get to safety if necessary.

However, these safety devices are expensive and rogaine entry fees are not.
Nov 30, 2011 4:17 AM # 
The first person wakes up the rattlesnake.
The second one gets him mad.
The third gets bitten.
Nov 30, 2011 8:55 PM # 
The fourth posts a photo on Facebook.
The fifth, hopefully, calls 911.

This discussion thread is closed.