Two Renton teen represented the United States in Finland in a sport you’ve probably never heard of — orienteering.
Orienteering is a competitive sport that combines racing with navigation, map reading and decision making. These races are conducted in various outdoor terrains.
Tyra Christopherson, 19, who currently attends Northeastern University, and her 17-year-old sister, Siri Christopherson, who is about to be a senior at Liberty High School, described orienteering as an “adult scavenger hunt.”
“You’re running through the wood with a map and a compass trying to find orange and white flags. It’s a race. Whoever can find the flags… wins,” said Tyra.
“It’s like a cross country race, but it’s not a marked course,” added Siri. “You choose your own course. But you have to hit the check points in the marked order. You can choose how to get between each of them, but you have to get all of them.”
The Christopherson were two of the six women who were part of the 2017 US Junior World Orienteering Championship team, and participated in the international competition in Finland.
They were introduced to the sport by their father, who eventually convinced Tyra to try it out when she was a sophomore in Liberty High School.
“It became more of a primary sport from there,” she said.
Siri followed suit the following year. However being an orienteer in the U.S. can be tricky.
“As American orienteers, your base of orienteering athletes is way spread throughout the country. It’s not a well-known sport in the U.S,” said Siri. “It takes a lot of self motivation (to practice), especially in the U.S.”
While their fellow European orienteers participate in meets once or twice a week, Tyra and Siri do what they can with Cascade Orienteering, the only local orienteering club around. They also make do with the available Pacific Northwest resources.
“We would drive out to Eastern Washington and get out some maps and train by ourselves. We would design our own trainings and courses on the maps,” said Siri.
Tyra and Siri said being involved in track and cross country helps with the physical training needed for orienteering.
“I like that it’s a mental sport too,” said Tyra. “(In) all sports you have to use your brain a little bit, but in orienteering, if you lose your focus at all, you don’t know where you are. You lose your spot on your map. You would have lost 20, 30, even 40 minutes.”
“Which will cost you your entire race,” Siri added. “You have to be on top of your mental game in orienteering…. If you’re not paying attention, you will be completely lost.”
Tyra has competed in the world championships for three years, but this was Siri’s first year competing in the international terrain.
“I was so excited for Siri when she got into the team,” said Tyra. “It’s a fun experience. We were there for a month before training, living with roommates, sharing a bed together.”
Siri nodded in agreement, adding “It’s also nice to have a travel buddy.”
Both sisters said orienteering has taught them important life lessons.
“Orienteering teaches you that you have to pick your own route,” said Siri. You have to trust yourself that you’ll have to navigate it. It sounds kind of cheesy but that’s definitely applicable to life. You can choose your goals and how you want to get there. You have this control and you choose your route, but you have to be confident in your ability to navigate yourself that way.”
“Adding onto that, if you get lost along the way, you’re going to stop, think about it, relocate, figure out where you are, said Tyra. “Maybe the best way to get there is change the route, maybe not. You’re going to get lost in whatever you’re trying to achieve. You have to take a step back, collect yourself, and maybe reevaluate what’s going on.”