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Erik Kemp and Molly Kemp: Orienteering champions

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Erik Kemp and Molly Kemp navigate their way to the National orienteering champions. Photo by Kathleen Wilker

Orienteering champions

Out of the forest and overseas

By Kathleen Wilker

Generally, when Kitchissippi residents agree to be interviewed by the Kitchissippi Times, they provide a home address or a neighbourhood coffee shop where the interview can take place. In the spirit of their sport, orienteering national champions Eric Kemp and Molly Kemp instead provided a map with a waypoint in Hampton Park marked.

I arrived early and was seated on a park bench near the Buell Street entrance when the brother and sister team—who live just off Churchill Avenue—jogged up to our meeting place.

“Orienteering races begin with participants receiving maps which they have never seen before,” explains Eric Kemp, showing me the orange and white check point flag that orienteers seek out. “There’s a countdown, and then you turn over your map, find the triangle that marks the starting point and chart the fastest and most efficient route through the woods, visiting each checkpoint en route.”

Orienteering champions in action. Photo by Kathleen Wilker

Although some events favour mass starts, most orienteering races have staggered starts so that participants are able to navigate the own route using only the map provided, a compass and their ingenuity. The ability to leap over logs and slosh through mud puddles does come in handy. Course routes vary in distance and complexity, making orienteering a sport that’s widely accessible to athletes of all ages and abilities.

“Given the nature of our sport—people racing through the woods off trail and in all directions—it’s not very spectator-friendly,” he admits. “At the Worlds, each participant is marked with a GPS locater, camera crews are set up at the check points and spectators wait in the stadium, watching all the little GPS dots on a big screen race through the course.”  

Are there any dangers involved in short cut racing through the woods with the clock ticking? Scrapes and bruises from branches as well as fresh air and fitness are all typical souvenirs from an event.

While Molly Kemp has never had poison ivy, her brother is currently nursing a patch on his calf, another orienteering hazard. “At most competitions or even in training, there are so many of us crashing through the woods that it’s rare to spot wildlife,” explains Eric Kemp who recently came within six metres of a black bear while at a training camp in Canmore.

This summer Molly Kemp will head to Slovakia for the Junior Nationals while her brother travels to Spain and Switzerland for the Senior Nationals. These are not the first international competitions for these globetrotters who note that orienteering is a much bigger sport in Europe than it is in North America. “There’s an event in Sweden that draws 20,000 participants,” she says, noting that participating in huge international competitions is a great way to make friends from all over the world.

While travelling to orienteering events allows the Kemps to see non-touristy sides of the countries they visit, Molly Kemp does enjoy visiting the towns in the evenings for dinners out.

“We’ve always been an outdoors family, but we weren’t really an athletic family,” explains Eric Kemp who remembers the day years ago when his other sister, Karen who is currently living and studying in France on an orienteering scholarship told the family she was going for a run. “We were all surprised because while we might go for a hike, no one in our family actually ran for fun,” he remembers. Turns out his sister has a natural running gift. “When my little sister started getting faster than me, I thought I should start running too. And now I’m on the Senior National team.”

Both Eric and Molly Kemp train with the Ottawa Orienteering Club and regularly run through Hampton Park as part of their fitness regime. “The Orienteering Club welcomes newcomers,” says Molly who will be looking for new orienteering opportunities in Toronto in the fall when she begins a college degree as a developmental service worker. Her brother, who is in his third year of a computer science degree at Carleton University says he feels more at home running through Gatineau Park than he does on the busy streets of downtown Ottawa.

“When I was little, I remember hiking with my family and wishing I could fly from mountain to mountain,” reminisces Kemp. “Now that I’ve been training my mind and my body for so many years through orienteering, I feel like I can be at the bottom of a mountain, and float effortlessly to the top.”

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