Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn.
If you live in the Greenbrook area, near the Adventure Park, you may have noticed a bunch of teens running wild on Dec. 16, looking very determined.
It was nothing nefarious. They were taking part in an orienteering race.
I consider myself a niche sports nut. I love watching curling during the Olympics. I've enjoyed jai alai highlights on YouTube since there are no courts in the area. I've even witnessed a cricket match in Lakewood Ranch.
The weirder the better, in my opinion. If a sport exists, I've likely heard of it.
Having said that, I’ll admit it: I had never heard of orienteering before last week.
It is a sport, to start. High school teams are comprised of students in Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) programs. Lakewood Ranch High sophomore Ethan Campano described the competition for me.
“It’s cross country with a map and the woods,” Campano said.
The short version of how it works is this. Each participant gets a map and compass. The map has eight to 10 checkpoints the runners need to find spread across the route. Runners’ starts are staggered so areas don’t get overcrowded and they can’t simply follow each other. The runner to hit his or her checkpoints in the fastest time wins, and a team (school) score is collected at the end as well. Courses are 1 to 4 miles or longer, depending on the difficulty level.
It's a sport that would have given me nightmares. I was a Boy Scout in my youth, and my biggest fear on camping trips was that I would get lost in the forest for days, long enough for people to stop looking. Eventually, I would need to live as a wild child, scavenging for food and probably getting poison ivy a lot. Yes, I had an active imagination.
Campano said he had a similar, if less dramatized, experience.
“Last season, there was one map (he doesn’t remember which) that showed two trails in a fork,” Campano said. “It turned out to have three. I didn’t know what to do, so I took the second one and got lost. I sat down and thought, ‘How am I going to make it back?’ It was tense.”
Eventually, Campano remembered advice from a safety meeting prior to the event: Head west to find the starting area. I wouldn’t be talking to him if he didn’t find it, but the experience shows the risks and difficulty of the sport.
In all the navigating, it’s easy to forget that the performances are timed. These are not leisurely walks, they are sprints. Lakewood Ranch freshman Kora Turner decided to join the team to get in shape, and the result has been a world of changes.
“You make this a lifestyle,” Turner said. “You have to drink more water and eat better. You have to practice on your own, outside of school, at least two days a week to keep pace.”
I could never do what these kids are doings so don't expect to see me in the woods with a compass.
More power to those who do. There are even adult courses you can try, if so inclined, but I can’t recommend it.
I don't want you to blame me if you get lost forever.