Still a newcomer to MTB Orienteering, Sarah Ginsbach is focused on learning from the experts and improving her own skills. In this interview, she reflects about herself and what it is like to be an orienteer in a country so vast and far from the big events, the United States of America.
The first question is always the easiest. Could you present yourself briefly?
Sarah Ginsbach (S. G.) - First and foremost, my name is Sarah Ginsbach. I was born in Oregon and moved to Texas 16 years later. In October of 2015, I moved to Colorado for work. I currently work in the administration side of emergency rooms for multiple companies and enjoy the flexibility my schedule offers. However, sometimes I work weekends and I feel like I miss out on the activities those days. Next spring I will be going back to school to work on my masters. When I'm not working, I love being outdoors. Cycling, snowboarding, hiking, orienteering, etc. I also enjoy both cooking and baking as well as socializing with my friends. I absolutely love that racing has taken me to so many places and I hope to continue to travel to new locations.
How did you get to know about Orienteering?
S. G. - I started as a swimmer in high school and college. After graduating, I tried my luck in XTERRAs and fell in love with all things off-road. I even qualified and competed in Worlds in Maui in 2011. After a successful and hard season in 2011, I turned my interest to mountain biking. It was then that I realized the bike left me the most happy. Much like adventure racing, road biking and cyclocross, I found Orienteering through mountain biking. Unlike my USA Teammates, my background was limited to cycling and adventure racing, with no map reading experience. I was picked up for the 2014 USA Women's team to help complete the women's relay. My first MTBO experience was in Poland during training camp. It was challenging and frustrating, but left me wanting more. It was my first time in an event where I was using both my mental thought process and body. I committed myself during that trip to learning more about orienteering and it's growth in the US.
What do you see in MTB Orienteering that makes it so special?
S. G. - The mix of skill and strength combined with mental clarity is very different from just foot orienteering. I feel I crash much more in MTBO than just XC or even downhill style mountain bike events. Taking your eyes off the trail to look at a map is challenging - for all levels. The faster you go, the quicker you need to make decisions and think about what you are going to be riding through/over. The events are varied even in that some locations allow you to ride off tracks, while other locations do not permit riding off tracks. This alone, can change your route choice completely. I enjoy mountain bike orienteering because it is not about who is the strongest. It requires mental skill and knowledge of map reading as well as being in elite physical fitness.
What comes to mind when you look back at the 2016 season?
S. G. - Why didn't I foot-o more?!? I moved in October and joined the Rocky Mountain Orienteering Club. The members were beyond inviting and full of helpful knowledge. Between wanting to explore and play in my new home, I did few O events. Perhaps only four or five. I did, however, learn to be more reserved when I raced. I know going into MTBO, that I often go too fast for my map reading skills. This posed a constant - passing turns and even controls. This year, I made a point to ride more reserved and try to minimize my time consuming mistakes. It took a while to get back into the groove, but I felt much improvement overall this year.
What does it mean to belong to the USA MTBO Team?
S. G. - Belonging to the USA MTBO Team means more than just wearing a team jersey. In the USA, we lack MTBO events in the country. I believe a handful of these events exist in the USA, and I have not have the privilege to attend any on US soil. But aside from racing, being a member of the US team means representing my country. While I may not be the fastest, I continually look to those with more knowledge and skill on ways to improve my map reading. It means I work hard during both the on and off season to better my performance for the WMBTOC. It means I am a member of a close knit family that works towards a common goal - bringing Mountain Bike Orienteering to the States. I best apply this by actively inviting friends to orienteering events and discussing my adventures and growing pains as an orienteer. I am lucky to have an amazing base to speak from. Not many can say they have been on the US MTBO team and many listen to my experiences and stories when I am asked of my journey to the World Championships.
Comparatively to the European riders, what opportunities would you like to have in the US that you don't?
S. G. - I would like to see orienteering events offered more often - and of different types. Learning orienteering in Texas, we lacked MTBO and ski-o. We only had foot-o. In Colorado, we have a few ski-o events, but are still working on MTBO. Orienteering as a whole is still an unknown event to the masses and I feel if it was as common as the weekend run event or weeknight bike race, it would be greatly enjoyed. Bringing the unknown to the masses would allow many to learn of the great sport and challenge that orienteering has to the offer - including the growth of orienteering in different forms - bike, ski, foot.
Is there a rider that you admire, that is an inspiration?
S. G. - I meet many riders when I compete at MTBO World Championships. All the athletes I have met have been inspiring. I must say, though, the Great Britain team has and continues to be an inspiration and great help for the US Team. I think it is hard to pinpoint key players, but Emily Benham has most certainly been a huge advocate for the US Team - myself included. It was incredible watching her reach such high achievements this year in Portugal and I wish and hope for her continued success.
The next big competition will be in Austria, in early June 2017. Are you already looking forward to the next season?
S. G. - I am always looking forward to the next event. It is a great way for me to train and see improvements. I also enjoy the camaraderie of fellow competitors. This year I spent some more time chatting with a few members of the Austrian team and I have been assured it will be an amazing event!
Would you like to share your goals for 2017?
S. G. - Improve route choice and commitment to the route choice. I often second guess myself and had I stuck to the original plan, it could have been faster than changing my mind. I also hope to improve in the long distance. I lack the skills needed to link long route choices.
Meanwhile, what does a MTB orienteer do in such a long waiting time? What are your plans for the winter season?
S. G. - During the winter, I work on my bike intensity. Since moving to Colorado, Cyclocross has been my most commonly raced sport. Season here runs from September through the end of December. We start out in warm, dry heat and finish in ice and snow. I also plan to learn to ski this winter and try my hand at ski-orienteering. Wish me luck!
With the season ending, I would ask you to make a wish for the MTB Orienteering community in 2017.
S. G. - In 2017, I hope MTBO continues to see a growing field of competitive athletes. I feel 2016's Championships were more competitive than ever! I hope we have more new girls show up and crush the sport. We need to break any barriers there are and encourage anyone new to the idea or the sport to give it a try. They will most certainly be rewarded with challenges and fun.