Here's the result of my reflections on the run which I would like to bounce off those reading this. This is going to be long. Here it is:
What has OUSA been doing to help US orienteering? For those who aren't familiar with it, here's OUSA's mission statement:
1. Increase participation in the sport.
2. Teach map reading and navigation skills.
3. Promote enjoyment of, and respect for, the environment.
4. Establish world-class competitive excellence within our national team programs.
Now, I'm going to focus on two of those points, namely, 1 and 4. I have more experience with 4 seeing as I'm on the national team. And I have experiences and opinions about 1.
Let's start with 4. After meditating on it, I'm convinced that, while I've been on the team, OUSA has not done much to "establish world-class competitive excellence" for me. I'm not criticizing all the volunteers who handle all the logistics for the US teams; in fact, they've been extraordinary. I am saying that the organization of OUSA has done little to help me.
It's been the US orienteering community through donations and support in other ways that has helped us to higher performance, but I struggle to find many ways in which OUSA has helped my personal performance. Yes, I have received some travel money and I had lodging and fees paid for at WOC 2015. However, I suspect a fairly large percentage of what I've received has come from donations.
After doing the calculations, I can confirm, without specific numbers, that I have received more support from the Spanish O Federation than from the American Federation. To clarify, the Spanish Federation has never given me money, but they've allowed me to travel with their athletes to competitions if there is an open seat, not paying for gas. If there's been extra space at their accommodation, I've stayed with them. And I've taken part in training camps for extremely reduced fees or for free (although sometimes I've had to pick up controls in exchange).
Effectively, considering the money I have not had to spend, and consequently the additional training I've been able to partake in, a foreign federation has been more supportive than my own. This difference will only be more striking after having our teams' 2017 OUSA unrestricted budget cut to zero.
If we want to "establish world-class competitive excellence within our national team programs," it is going to take much, much more than paying for WOC fees and occasional travel expenses. It doesn't sound great and may not even be viable with OUSA's current situation. However, it's the truth. I've been lucky enough to learn that excellence in orienteering goes far beyond focusing on WOC performance.
Open to discussion.
Now, point 1: increase participation in the sport. I want to open with the caveat that I am not thoroughly familiar with everything OUSA may do to increase participation in the sport. This is based on a specific case which I believe is representative of others and needs to be corrected.
My brother's club, BROC, was created almost two years ago. I've helped them to make some Kartapullautin maps for the several club members to enjoy for training. They've also made their own and are hoping to use them for a rogaine in the spring.
However, they still don't have a true orienteering map. Now, OUSA has a map grant initiative. But, unless something has changed since the last time I spoke with my brother, BROC still has not received any money to be used towards creating their first map. They have, nonetheless, found a way to pay their OUSA dues. After visiting my brother and enjoying their basic maps, I can confirm that they are not lacking terrain for maps. Moreover, my brother and I think the Blacksburg community is just the type of community that orienteering would thrive in.
So, first, what's the point of having a map grant program if a newly formed club can go two years without receiving any amount? And, unless I'm mistaken, the total amount new clubs would be given as a grant would be $1,000, not enough to make a map large enough to be reused consistently.
Here's an idea: retire ONA ($20,000/year) and provide grants of $5,000 to 4 new clubs each year. I think the people editing the magazine have done a wonderful job for years; retiring the magazine is not saying they haven't done a good job or that it's useless. But we have a much cheaper (free?) way of sending the same information to OUSA members thanks to digital technology. As an OUSA member, I prioritize growing the community in the US by helping new clubs over receiving a paper summary of what's going on in the community. Doesn't the newsletter email already fill this niche to an extent?
Ok, for those who have made it this far, this next part is a dream/meditation/reflection I've had about improving the US orienteering team in a myriad of ways.
The US O team needs help to improve, a lot of it. We have little money and we're really spread out. However, we are not lacking maps and we have a number of athletes who can do really, really well, if prepared properly.
As people reading this probably already know, I just finished up a training camp in the Hudson Valley area. I'm once again convinced that the maps and terrain there are among the best in the country (world?) and an incredible resource that needs to be utilized more.
So here's a proposal--please keep in mind that this is a rough draft and can be tweaked considerably before taking its final form:
I rent a 2+ bedroom apartment (house?) in Peekskill, NY. OUSA helps pay or helps find some way to pay for a helpful percentage of the rent. I take a room as a permanent resident/project organizer, the other room(s) are filled with bunk beds. Hopefully, this could encourage other team members to move to the same area or maybe other permanent residents...to be explored.
US O team members--juniors and seniors--come for training camps and stay for free whenever they wish (max. of 30 consecutive days because of rental laws, I think), OUSA members for free or cheap ($20/night perhaps) for nearby competitions--helpful for team-community relations (if charged, it'd be a suggested donation to OUSA)--and foreign national team athletes stay for a cheap donation rate in an area with some of our best maps (good for our connections with other countries). Obviously priority for beds would go to US team members first, then OUSA members, then foreign athletes.
It's got public transportation to a large airport(s) with cheap flights around the country and world. It's got 20+ high-quality technical maps within 1:15 drive and LiDar data that I could play around with of 2,000+ km2 technical areas to explore new areas and avoid overuse of the same maps.
Some benefits of this plan for US orienteering:
-They'd get another US-based elite orienteer (me) living in an area with great maps who's focused on elite competition and sharing what he's learned with other team members and juniors.
-I'd be able to organize training camps for elite teams which would also be open to OUSA members and foreign athletes. Free for teams and cheap for members and foreign athletes.
-I could organize year-round training camps for foreign orienteers vacationing in the NYC-area. I've seen this done simply by putting biodegradable streamers in the forest and charging for $5-10 for each map printed.
-I'd be able to train myself on great maps that would prepare me physically and mentally. Seeing as I'm still on the team and hoping to perform, this is important.
-This would be a relatively cheap elite training center.
Why I'd like to do this:
-This would also help to me spend significant amounts of time abroad (1 month+, specifically, the coldest part of winter in Peekskill is a great time to be in Spain).
-I could help the US team by providing a stable, consistent place to have cheap training camps.
-I could help foreign athletes explore the US, improving our relations with the rest of the world.
-I'd get a cheaper place to live in the US.
-I'd get to spend time doing what I love with people I enjoy and have a training group.
Like I said, probably needs massive tweaking. OUSA may not even be allowed to provide that aid, but it's an idea and I'd be willing to implement it.