On September 24 and 25, Deb Skelley’s and Barb Giroux’s physical education classes at Kingswood Regional Middle School were introduced to the Olympic sport of orienteering by Deb Humiston, a U.S. rank orienteer, instructor, adventure racer, and map producer. According to Humiston, most people are introduced to orienteering through scouts, where they learn a type of wilderness navigation used by the military.

“The compass often overwhelms people with numbers, angles, and pace counting. For class, this orienteering game is based on reading a map for the excitement of finding flags, ‘controls’, and having a fun adventure! People don’t even realize what a practical skill they are acquiring when they orient a map and actually make note of their surroundings. Being aware of what is around you is the first and most important skill.”

On the first day, Humiston showed an orienteering video, produced in Sweden and the US. She also brought in the uniform, equipment, map, and compass that she uses in the competition. Humiston says, “It isn’t the fastest road runner, but the most consistent navigator.”

Most Americans aren’t familiar with orienteering as a sport. In Sweden, students in kindergarten learn how to orienteer. Sweden is ranked number 1 in the world in world geography. Orienteering also teaches a lot more than map and compass skills. It’s a sport where one can push one’s self to one’s own limit.

On day two, the students returned for a lesson outside with Humiston’s hand drawn map of the school site. They looked for orange and white controls that have a punch hanging off of them. Each punch leaves a unique impression on the control card. Competition is not emphasized in the physical education setting. But ultimate goals are to gain confidence in reading a map, put all of the information together, get some exercise and have fun.

Humiston has also organized orienteering and map reading events involving horses, bikes, and snowshoes. The game can be applied to any activity, much like a treasure hunt, which she also organizes at birthday parties. There are canoes, skiing, and handicapped and night orienteering events.

“People who are unable to go through the woods because of a wheelchair or other difficulty can use the same map skills to look at controls to determine which is the correct one. That is called ‘Trail O’. I can always find a way to include everyone.” She said.

For Humiston, her husband, and three children, who compete around North America, it has become a family activity. Orienteering and awe-inspiring places like the Grand Canyon, California deserts, and river gorges are just a few of the perks. Humiston says, “It’s a sport that you can stay active in your whole life. Orienteering truly is the sport of a lifetime.”