A sense of place

Orienteers mix fitness, adventure

Don’t expect the sport of orienteering to take the country by storm anytime soon.

Orienteering’s popularity in the United States is pretty low, according to Mike Eglinski, a two-time U.S. orienteering national champion.

“It’s not very well-known at all in America. You’ll get an event with over 200 people – that’s a big event. The national championships might draw 300 to 600 people,” he says.

Eglinski, 42, grew up in Lawrence, graduated from Lawrence High School in 1981 and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from Kansas University in 1985.

His wife, Mary Jones, is president of Orienteer Kansas, a small group of orienteering enthusiasts, all of whom have ties to KU. The group has a dedicated core of 10-12 members, located in Lawrence and across the country.

“Once you’re an OK member, you’re always an OK member, we joke. We have members living in Washington state, Arizona, Missouri, Kansas and Maryland,” Jones says.

Eglinski and Jones live in Kansas City, Mo.

Roots in military exercises

Orienteering is a sport of navigation, using a topographical map and compass. The object is to run to a series of points shown on the map, choosing routes that lead to the points.

Traditionally, competitions take place in woods, with orienteers plotting routes to the points – usually marked with a flag – and returning to the finish after visiting the points.

About the group

Orienteer Kansas is a group of 10-12 people who are dedicated to the sport orienteering – using topographical maps and a compass to navigate a pre-set course. To learn more about this group, contact treasurer Gene Wee at genewee@sunflower.com.

A good source to learn about the sport is the Web site of the U.S. Orienteering Federation, www.us.orienteering.org.

You can even play a virtual version of orienteering online at www.catchingfeatures.com.

Events can be timed – the first to visit each point and return, wins – or of a set length. In the latter, competitors have a certain amount of time to collect as many points as possible.

The sport has its roots in military exercises conducted in Sweden; some say in the 1920s, others say in the 1950s and 1960s. It was introduced in America in the 1970s, according to enthusiasts.

While few Americans have gravitated toward the sport, it has managed to attract a small number of dedicated people, like those who belong to Orienteer Kansas and the larger Possum Trot Orienteering Club, serving the Kansas City area.

“For me, the appeal is two things. It involves being in the woods, which I love, and the second is having to read the map while moving,” says Jones, 43, who competes in about two orienteering events a month.

She learned about the sport from her brother, who was introduced to it during his ROTC training.

Jones gained experience by participating in competitions every weekend during a year spent in Ireland, and she still travels the world to compete. She won the women’s 35-39 age bracket in the national championships in 2002 in Washington, D.C.

Orienteering is a difficult sport, and that’s fine with her.

“That’s what I like, the constant challenge. As you get better and better at reading the map, you match things up faster between the map and the real world,” Jones says.

Edmund Eglinski, Mike Eglinski’s father, introduced him to the sport when he was a teenager at Lawrence High School.

The elder Eglinski, then an art history professor at KU, was a jogger, and one of his running partners, also a KU professor, had done some orienteering and took Mike’s father out to try it.

“He came back, and he told me about, and I thought, ‘Wow, that sounds great.’ I went to an orienteering event on west campus, and I was hooked maybe 10 minutes into it,” Mike says.

He grew serious about the sport around 1982. “I thought, ‘If I’m going to go faster, I need to work at this,’ so I started running and practicing,” he says.

“Now I would say I travel at least once a month to somewhere (to compete). This year, I was in Florida, Georgia, California : we even went over to Sweden.”

MOP Run in June

Gene Wee, treasurer of Orienteer Kansas, says that the group has been around since the 1970s.

“Right now, it’s more of an alumni group scattered around the country. Most of the members are KU grads, have gotten their master’s or undergrad degrees here and move on. A lot of them were in the cartography department,” says Wee, a Lawrence resident who has worked at the Kansas Union for about 15 years.

Orienteer Kansas sponsors one or two events per year in Lawrence, but members also occasionally travel to events elsewhere in the country.

In June, Orienteer Kansas and the club Run Lawrence co-sponsored the fourth annual MOP (Mascots on Parade) Run in town.

Because Kansas summers traditionally turn woods into inhospitable settings for events such as orienteering competitions, races like the MOP Run were invented.

The event started on KU’s campus included points around the city. There were one-, two- and three-hour races.

The MOP Run started three years ago. The markers were the artistic Jayhawk statues that had been placed throughout the city. Hence, the acronym MOP.

The event’s name has stayed the same, even though the Jayhawks have since scattered and no longer are control points.

The 35 or so participants were provided a street map minus street names with the control points marked. Each participant had to decide how many points he or she would try to visit in the allotted time and plot a course. Those farthest from the start/finish line under the Campanile were worth more points than those nearby.

Dee Boeck, president of RunLawrence – and Gene Wee’s wife – handily won the women’s 45-and-over division of the MOP Run, with 62 points. Boeck, who is 57, covered about 13 miles.

“I did some real orienteering about 20 years ago. I’m a road runner, and the MOP Run combines both. At my age, I worry more about getting injured running in the woods and on trails. Real orienteering is a cross-country event,” Boeck says.