Wellington Orienteering Club

Helen Howell


When did you start orienteering?

Dad took me to my first event in Hawke's Bay in 1999, so I would have been about one-and-half or two years old. He used to run his course with me on his back in a baby carrier. At first it was a way of giving mum a break from me, but it quite quickly became a whole family outing – there are photos of us at orienteering events from before my sister was walking.

What were some differences back then?

When I started orienteering, we still used clip cards and drew the controls on our maps by hand before starting our run. I remember feeling very proud of myself the first time I drew my own controls on my map! The older kids would often be running the finish and I remember watching them calculate finishers' course times before hanging our clipcards on the fence – I couldn't wait to be part of it. Of course, Sport Idents came in well before then!

What excites you about orienteering?

We get to see places in such a unique way, and I love running off-road. I also love the atmosphere at event centres – people gearing up to start their run, finishers discussing route choices and errors. It has such potential to grow as a sport and I'm excited to see how we grow it in Aotearoa.

Do you have a favourite event?

Sprint! I've never been the fastest sprinter, but I have ADHD so sprint orienteering really appeals to the part of my brain which loves quick decision making under pressure. I find it difficult to focus during long legs so I can be quite inconsistent over a longer distance.

What’s your favourite orienteering map, and why?

Bannockburn, in Otago. I’ve only run there once, during a junior camp about ten years ago, but loved it. The rock pillars were like nothing I've seen before and the smell of thyme rising up with every step made for a very enjoyable race.

Tell us something about yourself…

I grew up in Hawke's Bay and moved to Wellington to study law, linguistics and French in 2016, adding a maths minor at the last minute, so it took me six years all up. I hope to do my postgrad overseas in a couple of years – I’ve already checked and there's an orienteering club in the city I’m eyeing up!

What is one of your hobbies outside of orienteering?

I'm part of a New Zealand Response Team. NZRTs are described as "professional volunteers" able to pitch in and do a variety of things needing doing in an emergency. Most teams are trained in things like reconnaissance, first aid, rubble searches and stretcher extractions. Some also add more specialised training like mass casualty support, storm or flood response, high angle rope rescue and USAR support. I was deployed up to Hawke's Bay this year after Cyclone Gabrielle to support the recovery effort in some of the more isolated communities – an experience for which I'm very grateful.