Thursday, March 23, 2017

Nermin Fenmen: "You're made to feel part of the family"

When she first started orienteering, back in 2006, she thought it was such a pity she had come across this sport so late in life. However, when Nermin Fenmen ran her first WMOC in 2008 and saw seniors in classes like 90+ she said: “That’s good, I still have another 40 years or so to go”. Today, time to know a wonderful person and her work, both competing and acting behind the scenes.

The first question is always the easiest. Who is Nermin Fenmen?

Nermin Fenmen (N. F.) - I was born in Ankara, Turkey, in 1956. I studied Chemical Engineering at the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara. At present, I work as an instructor teaching computer programming at Bilkent University, also in Ankara. When I look back to more than 10 years ago, I see I would have a lot to mention when it comes to hobbies, interests, etc. However, since I started orienteering, orienteering and training for orienteering has become my main hobby. In fact, being involved in sports has reached such a peak in my life that I have enrolled in the PhD program at METU in the Department of Physical Education and Sports, something I would readily encourage anyone to do – be a student in something you have a passion for.

Can you remember the moment you're introduced to Orienteering? Was it love at first sight?

N. F. - I certainly remember, and it was definitely “love at first sight”. I was, at the time, on the executive board of the METU Alumni Association. In one of our board meetings, we decided to organize a series of outdoor activities together with the students at METU, mainly to enhance student – alumni interaction and also get our members out of doors taking part in family events.

I started contacting the student clubs at METU. We organized an event with the bird-watchers, the nature club took us into the hills to point out various interesting insects and plants, then we had a session with the outdoor photography club... I checked the list of clubs and there was this club called “orienteering” which said on its webpage that orienteering was an outdoor sport, so I thought I had better get in touch with them. They were happy with the idea of organizing an event on campus, which they said would be fun for the alumni and their families. We fixed the date as 18th November, 2005. I still had no idea of what orienteering was. Then I suddenly remembered there were these funny guys in the mountains I had come across once or twice (I later learned that these were called Hash Harriers). They were drawing arrows and special symbols at junctions using flour for people to follow.

I felt a bit responsible towards our members from the Association whom we had encouraged to bring their children along as well, so I phoned the club once again. I said the 18th of November could be a bit rainy and what would happen to the flour at junctions if it is wet and it gets washed away. There was a long silence on the phone. Then came a cold answer: “We don’t use flour. We use a map and a compass”. Oh well, I said to myself, we have to take a chance.

The event was a huge success and I enjoyed myself so much I asked the young students if I could come to their other events. In February 2006 they asked me to be part of the team. So I've been orienteer ever since that first day in November 2005.

What do you see in Orienteering that makes it so special?

N. F. - I would say it is the thrill of trying to solve a puzzle on the go! I had not been involved in regular sports until I took up orienteering and started training for competitions. When I started running and training with groups other than orienteering, I started participating in competitions for distance running, MTB races and triathlons. For one thing, the love of orienteering also makes our community special. We don’t have people trying to shove each other off track. Our community has never so far had any incident of doping. We try to put on a good face even if we were not as successful as we hoped to be. Our favorite point of the game is comparing route choices with our rivals. We share the love of nature. We enjoy seeing a clump of wild flowers, a colourful mushroom, maybe a deer or a hare running by during our course. It is not all about winning. It is something else which makes you whole.

What does it mean to be an orienteer in Turkey?

N. F. - Orienteering itself is quite a new sport in Turkey. When the Federation was first established as a branch under the General Directorate of Youth and Sports, back in 2002, those responsible had the duty of officially naming our sport. It is very difficult to find a Turkish name to fully explain orienteering with a single word, not even with two. So they chose the name “Oryantiring”, slightly bending the pronunciation and spelling to suit Turkish grammar rules better. However, the word “oryantiring” is very similar to the word “oryantal” which is the Turkish for belly dancing (!). In addition, we are a Mediterranean country. We don’t like the cold and the rain. We prefer to sleep late and sit at home to a huge family breakfast on a Sunday.

When I first started getting more involved in the development of the sport in Turkey, the three most difficult hurdles to pass in convincing mothers to allow their children to take up this sport was (a) no, we have nothing to do with belly dancing; (b) no, your child will not get lost in the forest; (c) no, your child will not get pneumonia as soon as it starts to rain. I still have friends asking me “but what if you get wet?” or “what if you get muddy?” and even “what if you get hungry?” But as years have passed, many more of my friends have, at least, developed an understanding for being out of doors on a Sunday morning.

How do you evaluate the growth of Orienteering in your country? Are you going in the right way?

N. F. - I would say we are definitely on the right track. Orienteering has developed very quickly in Turkey. It has spread into schools and universities. Many more clubs are being established each year. Orienteering has spread to many more parts of the country.

When I first started taking part in official competitions back in 2006, we had very few participants – around 350-400 maybe, and very few classes too, only 16 – 21. Now our official country cup races and championships have reached over 1,500 participants. We have classes from M/W10 up to M/W55, with two technical difficulty levels for the classes 16 – 21. The children’s classes 10 – 14 attract around 100 participants in each class. Last year the Federation decided to hold the championships for the classes 10 – 14 separately, starting with provincial championships, then moving up to regional and then finally the Turkish Championships. This had a very positive effect on the number of newcomers to the sport. Hosting the ISF World Schools Championships in Orienteering in 2015 also had a very encouraging impact on the development of orienteering in schools.

It is wonderful to see how many Masters we manage to attract to our sport as well. It was only in 2008 that the “veterans” class was officially added for the first time, a single class for 35+. Now the classes for the Masters are split up into 5-year age classes up to 55+ and we are even thinking of adding an A/B technical difficulty level for these too. Naturally, all the figures above are related to the development in foot-orienteering. The other disciplines are also underway, although participation in these is not at a satisfactory level at the moment. However, one of the prime duties of a national federation is to continue to try to promote the sport in every area. Therefore, we still continue to organize cup races and national championships in MTBO, Ski-O and Trail-O. Turkey has been represented in WMTBOC for several years now and WTOC for two years. We hope to take part in WSOC in the near future as well.

We were used to see your name connected with the Regional and Youth Development Commission. Sadly, you've not received support from your Federation and you're not in the Commission anymore. How do you feel about it?

N. F. - Naturally, it was disappointing for me, since I had already assumed certain responsibilities within the commission and I felt that we were letting these down as well. I tried to explain to our Federation that members of IOF commissions do not represent a country, we are there because we were nominated within the IOF regarding our skills and experience. I also had a difficult time explaining to people within the IOF community who know me, why I do not any longer have support from our Federation. However, I don't need any title to be of service to the sport which has become a passion for me. I was asked by the Chair for the RYDC to continue as a volunteer which I have readily accepted. I continue to contribute to the projects under my responsibility and work for the development of orienteering.

I see the RYDC as a very important commission in the development and spreading of orienteering. The IOF has always had a lot of support from member Federations, Regional Coordinators and volunteers. However, a lot of individual work throughout the world is now being channeled into a more systematic approach.

Another subject is MTB Orienteering, a discipline of which you're a fan. Why MTBO? Isn't it dangerous?

N. F. - My first MTBO event ever was the WMMTBOC in Gdansk, Poland in 2010. When I heard about it I said to myself, I can ride a bike and I know a bit about orienteering, why not? Naturally, MTBO is not just about riding a bike with a bit of map reading. I quickly saw that the first thing I should do was to improve my MTB skills. So I started training with our MTB team in the university. I gradually got over my fear of downhill riding (although still not completely). I learnt how to keep my speed while reading the map (although I still have difficulty if the network of paths is very dense, as it was for the Middle Distance in Kaunas this year). I have taken the opportunity to join training camps to improve my map-reading too.

I have never thought of MTBO as “dangerous”. I have already had two bad falls, one while training in the hills where I live, the other during an MTB race where I ripped my arm and had to have 12 stitches. However, neither of these has made me think that MTBO is not for me or for anyone of my age. On the contrary, these have only encouraged me to train more. For anyone who enjoys cycling and being in the forest on the trails meanwhile solving the puzzle of finding the most optimal route to the control point, MTBO is definitely the sport which offers all of this as a package deal.

What did you feel last September, in Lithuania, reaching the bronze in the Sprint of the World Masters Championships?

N. F. - It was a big surprise. I had a very good start and really felt in control. I made a bad mistake going to control number 7, that’s usually what happens when you get over-confident and think you are really doing well. I think this is the most important challenge in orienteering - pursuing a calm concentration throughout every millisecond of the course, from start to finish. I managed to stop riding in circles like a headless chicken after control number 9 and regained concentration. I never thought that I would be one of the medalists. When I reached the finish I only thought that yes, working hard pays, and I am definitely progressing fast in MTBO.

I was so happy when I saw that I had reached the bronze medal. This is my first medal in MTBO in an international competition and definitely my first in such a prestigious event and the World Masters Championships. I owe a lot to the MTBO community for their continuous encouragement ever since I started in 2010, especially to my friends in W50 and my new “rivals” now in W60. I think this is what is so exceptional about the orienteering community, you're made to feel part of the family. People like to share their knowledge and experience. I have learnt so much from my many friends in MTBO.

How do you rate the present moment of MTB Orienteering, particularly from the Masters' point of view?

N. F. - I am very happy to see so many new names on the entries lists in MTBO. I think MTBO is developing at high speed. For example, although it is just a few years ago that O-Ringen incorporated MTBO as an introductory event into their program, it is nice to see that it is a full 5-day event this year. The MTBO training camp in Denmark is something many mark on their agenda each year. Many more countries are looking towards organizing multi-day events and training camps. Last year the Turkish Federation organized a four-day event in Cappadocia, one of the most stunning regions in central Anatolia. This was a WRE and also part of the World Masters Series. We are planning towards offering training opportunities within the region, hopefully to be announced soon.

The World Masters Series offers a wonderful opportunity to Masters who would like to enjoy a full season, meanwhile competing in quality events in many different countries and terrains. Sadly, I cannot spare the time off from work much as I would love to, but I know that the events chosen to be part of the WMS are of high quality and offer fulfilling courses as well as interesting terrain.

For how long are we going to see you doing MTB Orienteering?

N. F. - I have only just upgraded from a 26 inch to a 29er and I would like to make the most of my new bike! So I would definitely say I hope to be around for many years (laughs). Actually, my unexpected success in Lithuania has motivated me to concentrate more on MTBO. I usually try to plan my summer well in advance and I usually pick prominent events in FootO meanwhile trying to merge in some MTBO as well. This year I will be doing MTBO only, only breaking into FootO for the South East European Masters Orienteering Championships in the Autumn.

May I ask you about your biggest wish?

N. F. - My biggest wish would be to continue orienteering for many years to come. When I first started orienteering back in 2006, I thought it was such a pity I had come across this sport so late in life. However, when I ran my first WMOC in 2008 and saw seniors in classes like 90+ I said that’s good, I still have another 40 years or so to go. I hope I will still be fit enough to continue orienteering up to that age. It would certainly be nice to keep on within the MTBO community and see new classes develop as time goes by.

Is there anything that you'd like to add?

N. F. - Many thanks for the interview and giving me the chance for expressing my opinions, feelings and wishes. Congratulations on keeping up the Portuguese Orienteering Blog which has now become one of the most important websites to turn to for interesting interviews, maps and other information on orienteering.

Joaquim Margarido

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