Bethel children learn to navigate maps for World Orienteering Day

BETHEL — Seven young girls huddle around a colorful map of their school’s campus, practicing navigation skills they learned in their third-grade physical education class. They rush to the basketball court next to Rockwell Elementary School.

“It’s this way,” a girl shouts, and they head off again, this time toward the edge of the trees behind the school.

“Wait,” said another girl, examining her card. “I don’t think it’s around here.”

The girls run on a path through the trees, hoping to find the next checkpoint on the orientation course during an event on Wednesday night.

Orienteering is a sport where competitors use a map and sometimes a compass to navigate wilderness or a park. The first person to pass all checkpoints in the correct order and return to the finish line wins.

About 40 students and adults participated in the event through the Western Connecticut Orienteering Club at Rockwell Elementary School Wednesday night. More than 1,500 schools and other places around the world held similar events on Wednesday as part of World Orienteering Day, an initiative by the International Orienteering Federation to raise awareness among young people about orienteering. orienteering.

Pavlina Brautigam, a Bethel resident and one of the event’s organizers, called orienteering a “thinking sport,” comparing it to playing chess while running.

“You go as fast as you can, but you also have to make decisions,” she said. “It reinforces self-confidence, decision-making, overcoming challenges. It’s the greatest sport, no other sport can beat it.

Brautigam has practiced orienteering since 1975 and has been part of the Bulgarian and American national teams. She met her husband through sports, and her two daughters played on the Junior and Senior US National Teams.

His daughter Evalin Brautigam, who will be a senior at Eastern Connecticut State University this fall, worked with third-graders at Rockwell in physical education class to teach them compass and map skills for the race. . She said sports allow children to exercise while thinking.

“It keeps your mind active,” Evalin said.

Katie Kechejian, 8, loved Evalin’s class and asked her mum to take her and her sister and friends to the event.

“This place is awesome,” Kechejian said. “We can be adventurous, walk through the woods and learn from your mistakes.”

Kechejian’s mother, Kit Nielsen, said she hopes to take her daughters to more orienteering in the future.

“It’s fun to see them really excited to use the map and literally go orienteering and try to figure out where everything is,” Nielsen said. “The skills involved are fantastic and they’re having fun.”

With over 60 clubs across the country, people of all ages can participate in the sport.

The races range from beginner to advanced. The 1.7 and 2.4 kilometer courses on the school campus took some participants 20 to 40 minutes. But more competitive races can be 26 kilometers through the woods.

“It’s all out racing,” said Susan Dewitt, who has been in the sport with the Western Connecticut Orienteering Club since 1995. that most people can’t run a 5K.

Evalin started the sport at a young age, learning on a beginner’s class where she used a map and followed a string on a trail. She will compete in an 11-kilometre run through the middle of the woods at the World Orienteering Championships in Estonia this summer.

Through sports, Evalin said she made lifelong friends and learned lifelong skills.

“It teaches you to be independent because you’re in the woods and you’re yours,” she said.

At a time when people can pull GPS out of their phone when they’re lost, some of the younger participants said they’ve never used a physical map before.

“It becomes a lost skill,” DeWitt said. “You have to think about what happens if your battery dies.”

Dino J. Dotson