JW: I’ve chosen to interview Pam James, former National Team member who managed to achieve and consistently maintain the highest level of competitive orienteering while spending most of her orienteering life in a club and region with few other top-level orienteers. It has long intrigued me as to how she was able to develop her skills and remain competitive for so many years.
JW: Pam, at what age were you first introduced to orienteering and under what circumstances did this happen?
PJ: My Dad was involved with bringing Orienteering to Nova Scotia so I have been orienteering for a long time. To simplify things I often consider my first Canadian championships, in 1977 in Nova Scotia, as my start but in fact I had been orienteering for years.
JW: How would you describe that first experience?
PJ: I don’t actually remember my first experience. I think it was tagging along after mom or dad.
JW: At what point did you realize that you both enjoyed orienteering but that you were also good at it?
PJ: I went through a few phases. I always enjoyed going to Canadian championships. Enjoyed the travel and seeing friends again. There were definitely times growing up when I did not want to go orienteering. I did a number of team sports going through school and a one point I realized I enjoyed the Orienteering more and it was taking me further so I started to focus more on the Orienteering.
JW: Now for the big question, you began winning orienteering races at an early age. How were you able to develop the skills, in a small club, to compete and win at national and international races over so many age categories and for so many year?
PJ: I did a lot of travelling to compete. Starting 1977 I attended 20 consecutive Canada Championships, I have missed a few since then but I still try to get to most.
In the early years, I was lucky to have Bob Kaill living in Nova Scotia. He started the AYOT (Atlantic Youth Orienteering Team). Bob organized training sessions and training camps and he took a group of us over to Sweden for the Swedish 5 days in Lulea in 1982. That was my first Orienteering trip to Europe and I spent many summers there afterwards. I also did long road trips to the north-eastern USA, we would drive from Halifax to West Point or Harriman state park for the weekend, well a long weekend, leaving Thursday evening, stop in New Brunswick somewhere overnight and then down to New York. Race Saturday and Sunday and then get in the car and drive straight home arriving sometime early Monday morning.
JW: What, in your mind, does it take to become a top orienteer? Is there one factor or a combination of things? In your case, what was the biggest contributor to your success?
PJ: Dedication and commitment to train, it helps to either to live in good orienteering areas or be willing to travel. I think being able to travel to so many events and training camps was very important in my development.
JW: What challenges does your club and association face these days? And what ideas do you have to deal with them?
PJ: For the first time in ages we are getting updates done to some of our maps. This is awesome and we need to continue to update maps as we have a lot that are out of date. We had a mapping clinic in the spring and the foreign mapper who came this fall took interested people out in the field with him and gave tips on the drafting as well. So hopefully we will have mappers that can at least do some of the simpler areas. It is challenging to bring in a foreign mapper.
Event Organization is another challenge the same people seem to be doing the work. We have been working to get new organizers qualified.
Our clubs are becoming stronger so this helps to disperse the work.
One area we need work in is keeping the youth interest, we don’t have a Junior program. We don’t have the training opportunities for them that I had.
JW: When you look at the development of orienteering, in North America, over the last 50 years, do you think there are things that could have been done differently to expand the reach of the sport to a wider audience?
PJ: I am not sure what. I don’t know why Orienteering hasn’t taken off, it is such a great family sport.
JW: Are there one or two people that were the biggest influences in your orienteering development?
PJ: My parents for the support they gave me and for getting me to events. Bob Kaill for the coaching early on in my career and at other points as well.
JW: What ambitions do you have for your future in orienteering? And where do you see orienteering in the future?
PJ: I am planning to compete in my first World Masters Ski O event in Vermont in March of 2018. I competed at the North American championships in Presque Isle Maine last year and really enjoyed it. I will have to work on my skiing which might be a problem here in Nova Scotia. Then I will be looking forward to the North American and Canadian championship in the Yukon next summer. After that, I am not sure. I haven’t been doing as much travelling as I used to and I am missing the Orienteering trips so I might have to see about going to a world masters some time, I haven’t actually made it to one yet as a master.
I find more and more people seem to know what orienteering is, which is great. I would like to see Orienteering grow here in Nova Scotia and in the country.
JW: Thanks for taking the time to participate in this point to point discussion. I look forward to catching up with you at event again, in the near future.
PJ: Vermont? The Yukon?