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Clare Durand: “I’m the only serious Trail Orienteer within a three hour drive”

To talk about Clare Durand is to talk about resilience. It’s in Lancaster, in the desert north of Los Angeles, in the United States, that we’re going to find her. Clare studied Geography and Computer Science, worked for the government making military maps, worked on movies and television as an assistant director and taught Mathematics. She’s now directing local musical theatre productions, is an active volunteer with the Girl Scouts and is writing a series of children’s spy novels. Enough? It seems not. She’s also building a small business, organising local orienteering races and training. In the midst of this whole bustle, Clare doesn’t neglect her own preparation, as she’s one of the most prominent and committed North American Trail Orienteers.

As a child, Clare Durand was a competitive swimmer. But she stopped swimming at the age of 15 to have more free time.
– I did a single trail-based orienteering event during college with a colleague but didn’t pursue it, she remembers.
A few years later, she had moved to the East Coast and attended a beginner’s event that she read about in the newspaper and was hooked.
– I’ve always really enjoyed maps, navigation, and hiking, so it’s no doubt this was the sport for me, Clare adds.

Clare first did TrailO at a demonstration event in Wyoming, around 2000. And she did it very well:
– This was exciting to me, because I am not a naturally talented runner, which makes it more difficult for me to have high placings in Foot Orienteering. But TrailO was something I could really excel in.
To Clare, what makes TrailO special “is it’s availability to people of all mobility challenges and it’s purity as a map-reading challenge”. But TrailO’s strength may also be one of its weaknesses:
– It is difficult to attract people to TrailO because orienteering is an inherently active sport and TrailO is not. I sometimes wonder if we should develop some sort of Paralympic wheelchair sprint event to bring more athleticism to the Paralympic format, she says.

“Lack of events and training opportunities”
We are used to seeing you representing the US team in the World Trail Orienteering Championships. How do you assess your results so far? Would you expect something better?
– I’ve been disappointed not to have some higher placings, especially in PreO. I have had a few really excellent single day performances, but have not accomplished this for two days in a row when it counts. I’ve been encouraged by my continued improvement in TempO. Last year I came close to making the final, which is a big jump from being near the bottom of the standings in Italy. It’s hard to keep up with the amount of TrailO that goes on in Europe. My competitors are getting much more practice. I also have never won the U.S. Championships in TrailO. That’s a big target for me.

What is the most difficult part of being a Trail Orienteer in the United States?
– The U.S. is a very large place with very few Trail Orienteers. I’m the only serious Trail Orienteer within a three-hour drive, so there is no one to help me train near home. Any local events are put on by me, but since I am also putting on most of the local Foot Orienteering, it leaves little time for TrailO. Similar conditions exist for most of our team members.

A “golden” dream
– To have a strong TrailO team, the United States needs to commit to having many more TrailO events throughout the country and have Trail Orienteering training camps, says Clare, recognising that the US team has not been able to attract new people.
– We need to attract more new orienteers, and especially figure out how to bring Trail Orienteering to the Paralympic population who might be interested in our sport, she says.

The World Trail Orienteering Championships, in July, are Clare’s next challenge.
– I am hoping to go to Lithuania, but am having difficulty fitting it in my budget, so I’m still working on that. A trip from California to Europe is very expensive. If I can go, my goals would be to have two excellent PreO days, possibly reaching the awards level, and to make the TempO final, she asserts.

Would you like to share your biggest dream with us?
– I have many big dreams related to my different pursuits. I dream that Orienteering would become popular enough in the US that we would have events every weekend in every city. In TrailO, my biggest dream would be to achieve the gold medal in PreO at the World Champs.

Text and photo by Joaquim Margarido


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