Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Interview #1: Jim Webster interviewed by Adrian Zissos

AZ: I’ve chosen to interview Jim Webster, a former stalwart of Foothills Wanderers Orienteering Club in Calgary, and currently living in Cranbrook, BC where he’s moving and shaking the south-eastern BC orienteering community as a member of the Kootenay Orienteering Club. Jim is one of the first people I met when I began orienteering thirty years ago and has been a big influence in my life ever since.
Jim Webster
Adrian Zissos

AZ: Jim, I realise you don’t look it anymore, but I understand you were once a finely tuned orienteering machine. I know this is going way, way back in history – but in your orienteering career what are some of your competitive highlights?

JW: One of the interesting things about winning orienteering medals, which has always puzzled me, is why we don’t put the date or event on the back.  I have a drawer at home that I pull open, from time to time, to see all the medals within.  What I’m never sure of is whether they are medals I’ve won or just leftovers from an event I helped organise.  I like to convince myself it is the former although more likely the latter.

As far as competitive hi-lites, I remember a few.  One of the clearest was a lead-up event to the 1988 Canadian Championships, in the sand hills of Manitoba, I believe near Hartney where I had one of my cleanest runs and finished at or near the top of the field.  What made that race special was that it was the first and probably the only time I ever beat Gord Hunter, a former Canadian Champion.

Other hi-lites include winning a number of gold medals, as part of Alberta relay teams, both at Western Canadian, APOC and Canadian Championships.  Often the teams included Geraint Edmunds or Don Bayley but on one occasion, in 1993, it was Adrian, Geraint and myself taking home Gold at the Canadian Relay Championships, near Grand Falls, NB, a forest in which I’d once been extremely dis-orienteered having set a personal best of over 90 minutes to find one control.  Probably much to the chagrin of the organisers as they thought about putting together a search party.

AZ: I’ve heard rumours that once upon a time orienteering maps were printed in black and white only. Can you confirm that?

JW: In fact I can, as some of the early maps, in Calgary, such as Nose Hill were B&W for many years.  This was, in large part, due to reproduction costs.  All colour maps were expensive to print, as they required off-setting printing which required setting up individual plates for each colour.  B&W could be printed at a far less expensive cost as only one plate was required.  Happy was the day that top quality colour printers arrived, although you still needed to ensure the colour met International Orienteering Federation guidelines.  Of course, B&W maps was still a step up from wooden lithograph stamps that had been used to make maps in the 16th - 19th centuries when explorers first started orienteering.  Those had been fazed out by the time I joined the sport.

AZ: And what have been some of your favourite orienteering experiences?

JW: Often the great orienteering experiences have been about the people, places and activities surrounding the events rather than the actual race itself.  I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with many of the early builders of the sport, in Canada and North America.  Those memories and friendships are something I will always cherish.

Being a member of the COF Board, in the 1980’s, with the likes of Jack Forsyth, Jim Lee, Charlie Fox, Gord Hunter, Earl Philips, Pat de St. Croix, plus others all under the guidance of Colin Kirk, had a great impact on me and helped develop a belief that the orienteering community truly was special and something I wanted to part of.

Twenty five years of Blue Lake clinics established the foundation for the sport in western Canada that is still in place today.  Heading to Blue Lake for the July long-weekend was a tradition that many of us looked forward to as a chance to reconnect with friends and, like me, get in shape for the balance of the season.  After five days of orienteering the depressions and soft ground of Blue Lake you were either going to be in great shape or totally spent.

The support of other orienteers in tackling big challenges never fails to amaze me.  For a small orienteering community, on the world stage, we have truly hosted some amazing events from Canadian, North American and Asia Pacific Championships, to World Cup races and two week festivals. Nothing has seemed impossible or beyond our capabilities.

AZ: More seriously, you have been a major influence in the development of orienteering in Canada. What are some of the bigger changes that you’ve experienced over the last few decades?

JW: One of the big challenges all orienteer clubs seem to face, in North America, is attracting, maintaining and developing new members, officials and athletes.   Although we orienteers feel orienteering is the greatest sport ever and can’t comprehend how the world hasn’t flocked to the sport, it has always been a challenge to introduce the sport to others, to the point of even hesitating to use the word orienteering in our promotional efforts.

I am very encouraged by some of the recent efforts to get younger people involved in orienteering and in particular, how some juniors have developed a real pride in being orienteers and taking the sport seriously.  I see this in the young members of the Kootenay Orienteering Club where we regularly have over 20 people at our week night events.

AZ: And what are some of the changes you’ve been part of that you are most proud of?

JW: Often, in volunteer groups, we tend to hang on too long thinking that if we step down or move on that the club or association won’t survive or be able to find a replacement.  I guess being able to step away from a leadership role, and see how clubs like the Foothills Wanderers and Kootenay Orienteering thrive and continue to develop, for me, shows that we all have a turn but there is always a time for new ideas and leadership which will only see the light of day when the old guard steps to the side.

AZ: What challenges does your club face these days? And what ideas do you have to deal with them?

JW: We are lucky in that we have some amazing terrain in close proximity to our main centres so we don’t have to travel far to go orienteering so quality maps and terrain aren’t an issue.  We have a strong program in the schools, in Kimberley, so expanding this to other locations, further developing our officials and organising skills so that more members are able to help host events needs to be a focus in the coming year or two, especially if we are to continue hosting larger provincial and national events.

AZ: And where do you see the growth of your club in the future?

JW: I see growth coming from some of the young families, in the club, by keeping them involved and active.  I have always believed that people will stay involved if you keep them engaged and they become more than just a participant if they become an active volunteer.  Too often we are reluctant to ask people to help.  I strongly believe the more you get them involved the longer they will stay with the club and the sport.

AZ: Other than me, who are some of the most inspiring orienteers for you?

JW: There are many but  a few would be Colin Kirk for his passion about the sport, Jim and Jack, from Hartley, who showed me what could be achieved by a small club from a small town, and the ladies from FWOC.  The women of the Foothills Club continues to inspire me for their commitment and love of orienteering and their willingness to always assist and be involved in both the competitive as well as organisational sides of the sport. (Kitty, Marion, Jane, Andrea, Christin, Marsha, Karen and more)

AZ: What ambitions do you have for your future in orienteering?

JW: I’d like to pass on my map collection to someone that could archive it.  Other than that, just stay involved as best I can and where I’m needed.  Hopefully, continuing to share any knowledge and experience I have with others.

AZ: Hey Jim – thanks. A joy to chat with you as always.

JW: Thanks for getting me thinking about all the great things that orienteering has meant for me over the years.