Junior Team

2019 Orienteering in Europe with Keegan Harkavy

This summer I was given the chance to go to Europe with the U.S. Junior National Team. As an alternate on the team, I was able to participate in a week-long training program, as well as compete in a week of JWOC spectator races. Training, traveling and racing with some of the best junior orienteers was an incredible experience and made for one of the best summers of my life. I learned a lot about orienteering, and played a lot of cards.

My summer officially began with the Boston Sprint Camp which was held the first weekend of June. This was the first time since the April team trials where I could see some of the Junior National Team members and it was super fun to spend time with them, both racing and socializing. The races themselves were also awesome and it really got me pumped for the rest of the summer. Winning the sprint camp was also very nice.

My next stop, a couple of weeks later, was the Philadelphia training camp run by Greg Ahlswede. This training camp was designed by Greg and was for any junior orienteer, with the goal of training and being together as a group. While the woods weren’t the nicest, there was a lot of good quality orienteering. A lot of juniors participated and it was great to bond with them by playing cards and getting my nails painted. When the training camp ended, I had four days before the Junior National Team was scheduled to leave for the JWOC races in Europe, which I spent with fellow teammates Bridget, Julia, and Siri, and Gata (Greg’s cat) at Greg’s house in Pennsylvania. We trained some more, made some pasta, and floated down the river. All in all a pretty good week. From there we were off to Europe.

JWOC was held in Denmark this year, and we were there for a little over 2 weeks. About 16 athletes traveled to Denmark, to race and train. Of those, 12 were competing in JWOC. We were also traveling with three coaches: Erin Schirm, Greg Ahlswede, and Sam.

The trip was pretty much all training or racing. The first week of the trip was focused on training and preparing for the races. This consisted mostly of going out to the Danish woods and doing technical trainings, like line-o’s, contour-only o’s and control picks. The terrain in Denmark was amazing and I would love to go back and race there again some time. It was mostly an open forest with large pine trees. The woods were also quite hilly and the contours very visible. Besides just woods training we did some very weird other training. This training was a mix of team-building and skill practice. For example in one, we had to balance sticks on different parts of our body and then throw the sticks at people. When we were not training, we were playing cards. I played more cards in these two weeks than in the rest of the year combined. The second week was focused on racing. At this point, the JWOC athletes and the tour athletes separated.

My favorite race of the summer was the JWOC spectator long course. I loved this course for two reasons. The first reason was that this was my first good race while in Europe. The sprint race I had done the first day did not go quite how I had wanted it to go and nailing this race felt really good. The other reason I liked this race so much was that it was a mass start. This made the race much more competitive and was really fun to run in. This race really reminded me of the BillyGoat, which is one of my favorite races in the U.S., but it was bigger and more competitive. The first couple of controls were a blur to me, akin more to a cross-country race than a normal orienteering race. At around control 6, I found myself alone for the first time in the race and it really caught me off guard. I was executing my route perfectly to the control and knew exactly where I was and where I was going but being alone really shook my confidence. I could not imagine why I would be alone except if I was lost. This resulted in me missing my control by a bit and losing two to three minutes. Looking back on the control I am pretty sure the course setter did this on purpose by separating the two different courses that started at the same time on this control, this drastically reduced the number of people going to this control and thus I ended up alone. The rest of the race I was running mostly by myself. Yet I never felt really as alone as I do in the U.S. The vast amount of people in the woods really just changed the whole mood of the forest. I ran the rest of the race pretty cleanly and fast. The navigation was mostly reading the broad contours or finding the right trail route to the control. The course, while not being overly technical, was very physically demanding. When I finished it I was more tired than after any other race of the summer. One of my biggest surprises when I finished the race. I felt like I ran a very solid race with few mistakes and even still, I was a good five to ten minutes back from the leader. This level of skill, in the nonelite category, really surprised and amazed, me and l found it cool to see such good orienteers.

After the races, I headed back to the United States. As I was going home I was surprised at how sad I was to be leaving. Not only was I sad about leaving the amazing terrain and races, I was also really going to miss all of the other juniors I had become friends with over the past month and had lived, trained, ate and played cards with. We were a fun group and really liked hanging out with each other. When I got home I took a little break from training to recover, but after that recovery, I was back in the woods. Being back in familiar terrain I realized how much better I got in Europe and how much faster I was now. It also helped me really enjoy the sport and show me how far I can still go.