Navigating through campus
By Danielle Masterson
Racing through the woods, Viktoria Brautigam keeps one eye on a map and another on a compass as she dodges trees and brush.
Brautigam (SAR’07) is not being chased by a wild animal. She did not stray away from a charted course. She is orienteering — a little-known European sport growing in popularity in the United States.
“There are possibilities to get completely lost, but that is what’s challenging about it,” says Brautigam. “You want to keep a good pace and you want to keep track of the landmarks and where you are on the map with your compass.”
Orienteering is a competitive form of land navigation in which people locate marked points in a charted course, usually in a heavily wooded area, much like a treasure hunt. Each point has a flag and a distinctive card-puncher that the orienteer uses to mark a scorecard to prove he or she found it. Competitors choose routes both on and off trail to find the landmarks in the shortest amount of time. Competitions are divided into different levels, ranging from beginner, where children as young as four and five years old walk through a stringed course with their parents, to elite, where expert orienteers run from point to point.
Brautigam says orienteering is a mentally demanding sport where concentrating on the map is key to getting to each point the fastest without getting lost.
Orienteering began in Scandinavia as a military exercise more than 100 years ago. In 1919, Ernst Killander created the modern version of the competition, which was brought to America in 1946.
Orienteering is now a full-fledged sport governed by the U.S. Orienteering Federation, an affiliated member of the U.S. Olympic Committee. With 70 U.S. clubs and more than 2,500 members, there can be as many as 1,000 orienteering competitions a year in the United States.
“It’s growing a lot on the club level,” says Jon Nash of the U.S. Orienteering Federation. “People like to do it recreationally or as a cross-training sport.” Orienteering is also a key part of adventure racing, where two- to five-member teams bike, orienteer, hike, or canoe through challenging courses.
Nash says children are often introduced to orienteering through the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, which offer them the opportunity to earn merit badges in the sport. Corporate team builders also use it to help employees work as a team to tackle a problem.
While living in Europe, Viktoria learned the sport from her mother, Pavlina Brautigam, a former member of the Bulgarian National Team. Pavlina, who was named the 1999 Female Athlete of the Year by the U.S. Orienteering Federation, competed while pregnant with Viktoria and later brought her to all her competitions. While Pavlina raced, Viktoria sat on the sidelines and watched intently, and when she was eight years old, she picked up a map and went out on her own.
After moving to America when Viktoria was eight, Pavlina married another well-known orienteer — Joe Brautigam, who was the federation’s 1999 Male Athlete of the Year. The couple met orienteering and still compete, in addition to watching their daughter’s competitions.
Now ranked third in the federation’s women age 20 and under category, Viktoria represented the United States during the summer at the World University Orienteering Championships in the Czech Republic and the Junior World Championships in Poland. The exercise physiology major hopes to join her mother in the senior class in a year or two.
“Viktoria is an outstanding cross country runner, which makes her good,” says Nash. “She also has a very good temperament for the sport. She is fast, but can think on her feet. If things go wrong, if her navigation choice does not work out, she stays cool and corrects it. It’s a very mental sport. It’s easy to get down on yourself if you make a mistake and she doesn’t do that.”
Despite its growing popularity, Brautigam says, the sport is still relatively unknown. “There is no place that it is a common sport,” she says. “Even in Scandinavia, where a lot of people do it, it’s still not very well known. They think of orienteering as what the Boy Scouts do or what you do when you’re hiking. They don’t think of it as a competitive sport.”
She is hoping to get more people interested in the sport at BU. Last year she taught several orienteering clinics at Eastern Mountain Sports on Commonwealth Avenue in conjunction with Cambridge Sports Union, the orienteering club she belongs to in Boston. After the clinics, attendees were invited to one of the Cambridge Sports Union’s orienteering events.
Brautigam taught the clinics because her friends thought orienteering was “kind of funny and weird,” and although they didn’t attend, she says, she found “teaching orienteering is interesting. I’ll probably do it again this year.”
If you are interested in learning more about the sport, call Viktoria Brautigam at 203-417-2785 or e-mail her at email@example.com.