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Orienteering Express
by Suki Casanave '86G

When Sandra Zurcher '04 was a baby, her mother used to run through the woods, bounding over logs with Sandra strapped to her back. All that bouncing has paid off. Today Zurcher, now 22, is one of the best women orienteers in the country.

Orienteering is the art of running through the woods while reading a map and getting from one end of the course to the other in as little time and with as few mistakes as possible. It may sound to some like a clever form of torture, but for Zurcher, a UNH kinesiology student, and her good friend Erin Olafsen '03, orienteering is a full-time passion.

The two friends recently returned from the world championships in Switzerland, where they competed against teams from 58 countries. In the relay, the women's team placed higher than ever before, coming in 22nd.

While that may not sound impressive, Zurcher and Olafsen point out that in European and Scandinavian countries, orienteering is highly popular and opportunities to practice and compete are frequent. Here in the United States, where the sport remains relatively obscure, Zurcher and Olafsen train diligently on their own, but typically without a laid-out course.

In the sprint event at the world championships, for the Ūrst time Zurcher found herself running a course that was set in a town, instead of the woods--a medieval village complete with castle and winding cobblestone streets. Thousands of people lined the course, says Zurcher, who was chosen to represent the United States,"and they were cheering us by name."

Back in the United States, Zurcher and Olafsen plan to pursue their sport for years to come. "It's like a treasure hunt," says Olafsen, who recently won the United States orienteering championships in Lake Tahoe, Calif. The sport can be incredibly frustrating, they admit, but when the running is sure-footed and the map reading accurate, it can be exhilarating. ~

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