Orienteering: an undiscovered gem

Tyra Christopherson, Staff Writer

Imagine running through the woods, hurdling over fallen trees, and scanning the nearby area with a map and compass in your hand. A glimpse of orange and white behind a boulder catches your eye, giving away the control location, and you immediately scramble over to the brightly colored flag. A quick punch with your electronic finger stick elicits a brief flash and a beep, and after a moment of deliberation, you are on your way to the next control.

This is called orienteering. It is a navigation race where competitors must find their way through a series of checkpoints indicated on their maps using only their map, compass, and observation skills. The map is the main component in orienteering because its extreme detail provides so much information: it is a topographic map with not only contour lines, but also different vegetation, trails, buildings, fences, and countless other features.

When I say the word “orienteering,” most people give me wide-eyed, bewildered looks. I don’t blame them. In the United States, orienteering is perhaps the most obscure sport. It did not make an appearance here until 1941, which – although it may seem like an eternity ago to today’s students – is quite recent. Orienteering is much more popular in Europe, and on the international level, it is dominated by Sweden (the birthplace of orienteering), Norway, Finland, and Switzerland.

Despite the rarity of orienteering in the U.S., it is familiar to some Liberty students. In fact, we have our own orienteering team that competes throughout the winter in the Washington Interscholastic Orienteering League (WIOL). The Varsity Boys team, led by NJROTC, is currently ranked 11th out of 19 teams, and the Varsity Girls team is ranked 2nd out of 14 teams. We might not get as much recognition as the football and soccer teams, but we still exist and do well.

Orienteering is open to anyone, and I encourage everyone to try it. The wide variety of course levels ensures that people with any ability level can participate, and it does not have to be a solo race. Bring your family; bring your friends; bring your dog. Come try this undiscovered gem called orienteering.