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Orienteering keeps Betty Bramhall, 93, active and looking ahead

July 30, 2016 Updated: July 31, 2016 at 10:51 pm
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photo - Elizabeth "Betty" Bramhall poses for a portrait following her completion of the 4 km "orange" course during the Rocky Mountain State Games' orienteering competition at Fox Run Regional Park on Saturday, July 30, 2016. Bramhall, who is 93, says she is the oldest orienteering female competing in Colorado. Photo by Ryan Jones, The Gazette.
Elizabeth "Betty" Bramhall poses for a portrait following her completion of the 4 km "orange" course during the Rocky Mountain State Games' orienteering competition at Fox Run Regional Park on Saturday, July 30, 2016. Bramhall, who is 93, says she is the oldest orienteering female competing in Colorado. Photo by Ryan Jones, The Gazette. 

Betty Bramhall didn't mince words after her effort Saturday in the Rocky Mountain State Games' orienteering competition at Fox Run Regional Park.

"I made more mistakes than I've ever made in my life," the longtime Boulder resident said. "It was just one of those days."

It was quite the opening statement, all things considered.

That's because Bramhall is 93 and has been around about five decades longer than orienteering has been a pastime in the United States. The former competitive cyclist and international skier decided long ago that solid ground was the way to go, taking a cue from a rival and friend from Sweden, where the sport was born in the 19th century.

"Now, I don't think it's a good idea to fall off my bike anymore," Bramhall said. "You don't have to be competitive to have a good time, and this is the only sport that's 50 percent mental. That means as your physical skills start to go to pot, hopefully you've still got something upstairs."

In orienteering, athletes use a map and compass to locate a series of checkpoints shown on a topographic map. Just find all the checkpoints and get to the finish line in the shortest amount of time.

"It's just you and your map and compass," event commissioner Doug Berling said. "In the early days, it came out of the military. People were trying to do things to better train with a map and compass, and what we know as orienteering is an outgrowth of that. Out here, your phone won't help you and neither will your GPS. It's a matter of reacting to the features you see."

More than 30 enthusiasts attended Saturday's competition, ranging from Bramhall's 93 to those young enough to be one of her eight great-grandchildren. Through it all, they navigated one of five routes - depending on ability - ranging from a short distance to as many as 8.9 miles through the thick forest of ponderosa pines.

Afterward, they congregated at tables, compared stories from the trails and perhaps encouraged changes in strategy in future races.

"You definitely learn with every race," said Troy Bozarth, 44, of Elizabeth. "Everyone sits around at the end of the race and discusses who went which route. The more you do it, the more tricks you learn."

Bozarth looks forward to learning many more tricks. After all, he's not quite halfway to Bramhall.

"I see myself doing this as long as possible," said Bozarth, who picked up the sport 16 years ago. "It's a very rewarding sport. You're running along, looking at your map and the terrain and you know that if you look over that ridge, there should be a flag there. Then you go over, and it's there. That means you're performing well. That takes a long time."

Bramhall may not be running anymore, but she's already looking forward for redemption in 2017.

"I hope to be back next year and do better," Bramhall said. "But I'm not upset. I like walking in the woods. It's fun, even if you're doing a lousy job."

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