Renton teens compete in World Orienteering Championship

Two teenagers from Renton represented the United States in Finland in a sport you’ve probably never heard of: orienteering.

Orienteering is a competitive sport that combines running with navigation, map reading and decision making. These races are held on various outdoor grounds.

Tyra Christopherson, 19, who is currently attending Northeastern University, and her 17-year-old sister, Siri Christopherson, who is about to be a senior at Liberty High School, described orienteering as “hunt for treasure for adults”.

“You run through the woods with a map and a compass trying to find orange and white flags. It’s a race. Whoever can find the flags…wins,” Tyra said.

“It’s like a cross-country race, but it’s not a marked course,” Siri added. “You choose your path yourself. But you must reach the checkpoints in the marked order. You can choose how to move between each of them, but you have to get them all.

The Christophersons were two of six women who made the 2017 U.S. Junior Orienteering World Championship team and competed internationally in Finland.

They were introduced to the sport by their father, who eventually convinced Tyra to try it when she was a sophomore at Liberty High School.

“It became more of a main sport from there,” she said.

Siri followed suit the following year. However, being a career counselor in the United States can be tricky.

“As American orienteers, your base of orienteering athletes is well spread across the country. It’s not a well-known sport in the United States,” Siri said. “It takes a lot of self-motivation (to practice), especially in the United States”

While their fellow European orienteers meet once or twice a week, Tyra and Siri do what they can with Cascade Orienteering, the only local orienteering club. They also make do with the available resources of the Pacific Northwest.

“We would drive around eastern Washington and pull out maps and practice on our own. We would design our own trainings and courses on the cards,” Siri said.

Tyra and Siri said being involved in track and cross-country helps with the physical training needed for orienteering.

“I also like that it’s a mental sport,” Tyra said. “(In) all sports you have to use your brain a bit, but in orienteering if you lose focus you don’t know where you are. You lose your place on your map. You would have lost 20 , 30 or even 40 minutes.

“Which will cost you your entire run,” Siri added. “You have to be on top of your mental game in orienteering…. If you’re not careful, you’ll be completely lost.

Tyra competed at the world championships for three years, but this was Siri’s first year competing on the international field.

“I was so excited for Siri when she came on the team,” Tyra said. “It’s a fun experience. We were there for a month before training, living with roommates, sharing a bed together.

Siri nodded in agreement, adding “It’s nice to have a travel buddy too.”

Both sisters said orienteering taught them important life lessons.

“Orienteering teaches you that you have to choose your own route,” Siri said. You have to trust yourself that you will have to navigate it. Sounds a little corny, but it’s certainly applicable to life. You can choose your goals and how you want to achieve them. You have that control and you choose your route, but you have to be confident in your ability to navigate that way.

“On top of that, if you get lost along the way, you’re going to stop, think, move, figure out where you are,” Tyra said. “Maybe the best way to do this is to change your route, maybe not. reassess what is happening.


Dino J. Dotson