Orienteering enthusiasts come to Oswego County to test their skills
It’s a combination of cross-country racing and trying to find the fastest and easiest ways to reach the finish line.
Peter Dady calls it running while thinking.
“Road racing is boring,” he said. “It’s trail running, but you have to think about it all the time. Do I want to turn left, right or go straight? Do I want to go over the hill or around the hill? “
Dady, 59, of Homer, is president of the Central New York Orienteering Club, which hosts the American Classic Orienteering Championships Saturday and Sunday at Happy Valley Wildlife Management Area in Williamstown.
More than 200 people – from all over the United States, Canada and even Europe – are expected to participate in the national championship.
They’ll run as fast as they can on trails and through the woods, using detailed maps and compasses to design the fastest and easiest routes. But they must also stop and check in at checkpoints along the way.
Oh, and they also have to do the stations in order – no skipping then back.
The US Classic Championships will be held over seven courses over two days. Classes are divided by level.
The elite course, which is usually raced by men and women between the ages of 21 and 35, is 12.2 kilometers, or almost 7.6 miles. The short course for children 10 and under is 2.7 kilometers, or approximately 1.7 miles.
“We’ve used the Oswego County Woods for competitions before, and people have loved it,” Dady said. “It’s subtle terrain. There are hills and it’s swampy – some of the swamps are not passable. Competitors have to decide: ‘Should I go around the swamp? How do I go around it?’
“Orienteering is often called trick racing or thinking man racing,” he said.
Dad got into orienteering from other sports.
He was a biathlete in the sport that combines skiing and marksmanship. From there, he tried his hand at ski orienteering. Then he switched to regular orienteering.
Barb Sleight, 76, a retired teacher from North Syracuse, grew up loving the outdoors. She and her family spent hours in Butternut Creek and the nearby hills doing all sorts of things.
Then, in 1978, she was reading an issue of National Wildlife Magazine and “there was this wonderful story about this sport called orienteering,” she said. “It introduced you to the outdoors and the natural environment.”
She joined an orientation club in Rochester.
“I loved it. It just clicked with me,” she said. “You have to use your head and read maps, and I love maps. And I love people, they’re so clean. There are family groups, husbands and wives. And I also like to travel.
Orienteering isn’t a huge sport in central New York, but elsewhere it’s huge.
“Here we have a club covering an area from Oswego to Binghamton and from Oneida to Ithaca,” Dady said. “In Europe, there would be six clubs in that same area.”
While more than 200 people are coming to the US championships this year, and nearly 400 attended last year near Albany, “there are tens of thousands of people at the competitions when you go to Europe,” a- he declared.
He said some states, including Ohio and Texas, have large school orienteering clubs.
Orienteering started at the end of the 19th century in Sweden as part of military training. The first civilian competition was held near Oslo, Norway in 1897.
In the United States, the first orienteering races were held in 1941 at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. The competitions continued for two years, then dwindled.
The sport was renewed in the 1960s with competitions in Pennsylvania. In 1967, orienteering became part of the training at the Marine Corps Center in Quantico, Virginia. The first U.S. Orienteering Championships event was held on October 17, 1970, and the U.S. Orienteering Federation was formed on August 1, 1971.
In 1988, Orienteering was accepted as a Class C sport by the United States Olympic Committee, later known as an Affiliate Sport. But Dady said it has yet to achieve full Olympic sport status.
“We thought we would get it for the Salt Lake Games for ski orienteering, but it hasn’t happened yet,” he said. “The problem is that it’s not spectator friendly.”
While spectators won’t be able to watch the action at the Williamstown courses next weekend, Dady and Sleight said, special recreational courses will be set up for people to come and try the sport.
Contact Debra J. Groom at [email protected], 470-3254 or 251-5586.