Anne Wilkinson '16: International Orienteering Competitor

In early November, I sat down with Anne Wilkinson, ECE, '16 to learn more about the sport of Orienteering, and what she did with it the past two summers. Below are snippets from our conversation.

What is Orienteering?
Orienteering is a map and compass sport that requires navigational strategy, endurance, fitness, speed and strength. Competitors are given a compass and detailed map with plotted points at the start of each race. During the timed competition each athlete must check in at all the points on the map in order to successfully complete the course.


Anne finishing this year's North American Orienteering Championship

When did you become interested in Orienteering?
My friend actually suggested that I try the sport when we were in middle school and I liked it so much that I continued through high school and won the women's championship as a senior on our varsity team. After that friends and family suggested that I try competing nationally and eventually scored well enough to make the US Junior team.

How do you become part of the US Junior Team?
Members of the junior team must be age 20 or younger and have done well in local and national orienteering competitions. The selection process for making the team has changed and this year we had team trials in California. Once the team is selected, we travel to the Junior World Orienteering Championship (JWOC). In 2013, JWOC was held in the Czech Republic and in 2014 we were in Bulgaria.

02Anne.jpg2014 Junior National Team

What is your training schedule like?
Training is a full year commitment. I have always been a runner but preparing for the US Junior Team involved so much more. There are mandatory group sessions in which I would have to take time away from Olin and conference call check-ins with my team and coaches. I also logged my personal training hours online. About 2 to 3 weeks before JWOC we travelled to the location of the competition and spent time training in the area with maps of similar terrain.

Tell us a bit more about Worlds:
The competition consists of 5 races over 6 days (there is a rest day in the middle of the competition). Athletes compete in the Sprint, Long Event, Middle Qualification, Middle Final and Team Relay. My best event is the Middle races that are usually 40 minutes or less, navigating a wooded area with highly technical maps. These trails require endurance, technical skills and the ability to maintain concentration and not become distracted by others on the course. The Sprint usually takes place in a more urban setting and is a quick race lasting less than 20 minutes. The Long Event is similar to the Middle but takes double the time to navigate and includes more route choices and thus more decision-making on behalf of the competitors. There is a unique balance on these courses as you need to pace yourself so that you don't become too tired and start losing the mental sharpness necessary to read the maps. The Relay race is a team event! Our team did well but the Europeans definitely dominate the sport, especially the Scandinavians, which is where the sport originated.

Thumbnail image for 04Anne.jpgAnne finishing the middle race at 2014 JWOC (Bulgaria)

Does it help to have an engineering background to compete in these events?
I have always been a runner and that was really the basis for getting into the sport but I have found that a high percentage of orienteers are also engineers.

What are your plans for the future? Would you like to continue Orienteering?
As I am no longer eligible to compete at the Junior Team level, I have decided to focus more on my studies since the training for the elite category is even more vigorous than my previous schedule. I plan to maintain my running schedule and work out at local clubs like New England Orienteering and Cambridge Sports Union for the fun of it but for now, a more demanding workout schedule is not a good fit for me. But, I really enjoyed the goal of having a training schedule and the ability to travel the world so I have not completely ruled out training at the elite level one day.

Thumbnail image for 03Anne.jpg Racing a sprint at another event in Bulgaria

What is your advice for other Oliners thinking of trying Orienteering?
Join the Olin Orienteering club or find a club in the local area where you can try out the beginner's course first before starting a training schedule. There are also local events and most clubs have an infrastructure to help beginners learn the sport.

 And remember to have fun! When my friends convinced me to join, I never imagined that it would lead to meeting so many new people and the opportunity to travel to so many different countries.

Posted in: A Broader World View, Because I Wanted To, From Our Staff