Story and pictures by Kim Mackrael. Pictures are available in a slide-show.
Noah Robin shook his shoulders back and forth until the gold bell around his neck rang softly.
“It’s so I don’t get lost,” he announced, stepping gingerly around a muddy trail.
Armed with a detailed topographical map and a compass, orienteers like Noah jump over streams and slide down rock faces to reach the bright orange and white flags that signal control points. The goal for the racers is to find each hidden control and make it back to the finish line. The meet was the last of the fall season for the Ottawa club.
And the key to winning – as Noah Robin will tell you – is not getting lost.
At four years old, Noah was one of the youngest participants in the Ottawa Orienteering Club’s 2009 championship meet Sunday morning in Stony Swamp Conservation Area, just west of the city.
Although the club has some elite athletes who are serious competitors, many others just consider orienteering a good way to stay healthy and get outdoors.
“Running for the sake of running can be a bit of a grind,” said Peter Laurich, a long time club member and meet organizer. “But if you’ve got a map in your hand and you’re trying to orienteer and navigate as you go, the time just flies by and it just keeps your mind and your body going.”
Noah’s mom, Kelsey Robin, was introduced to orienteering in high school. Although she forgot about the sport for a number of years, she said she was re-introduced to it through her kids and their friends.
“It’s a great sport for kids,” Robin said. “[It gets] them out in the woods, they learn how to read maps, and they get really comfortable to be out on these trails, just walking around.”