Athlete of the Month
Our Athlete of May is just the kind of person for whom Trail Orienteering was originally devised. Evaldas Butrimas was a promising foot orienteer as a youngster, but became completely wheel-chair bound as a result of a traffic accident. In Trail Orienteering he has found a sport where he can compete on exactly the same terms as an able-bodied sportsperson – and come out on top. “Trail Orienteering brought me back to sport, in fact back to life and back to being a proper part of society”, he says.
Wheelchair-bound at 19
Evaldas was 19 years of age when he became seriously injured in a car crash. His backbone was permanently damaged, and this caused paralysis in his legs which cannot be overcome. He is 38 now and lives in Mitriunai, a small town in the south-western part of Lithuania. At present he has no job but has one serious hobby that takes up most of his free time – fishing. That is a pastime which he says he finds very relaxing. He also enjoys travelling, and nowadays the journeys are mostly to TrailO competitions and training camps around the world.
“Before the accident, I was not bad as a foot orienteer”, Evaldas says. “That means I had experience and understanding of orienteering technique”. In 1996, when Evaldas was 22 and had settled into all the new routines he had to learn to keep alive and healthy, his former foot orienteering trainer Vytautas Dulius suggested this chance to get back into sport. “He told me that there existed a form of orienteering for handicapped people – Trail Orienteering”, says Evaldas. “He introduced me to my first TrailO coach, Jergis Mertinas, who was the founder of TrailO in Lithuania. With his help I started on TrailO. Yes, I was not bad from the start, and after about a year or two I reached the top level in Lithuania”.
This success quickly led to Evaldas representing Lithuania in World Cup competitions and World Championships, and his first major international success was at a World Cup event in Ukraine in 2000, where he achieved third place individually and was a member of the third-placed team. He also enjoyed World Cup success in 2001 in Finland (3rd) and in 2003 in Switzerland (2nd). His first TrailO World Championship medal came in 2004 in Sweden, where the Lithuanian team ended in bronze medal position.
2005 – landmark year
Then came the landmark year, 2005, when he travelled all the way to Japan and achieved his big dream – an individual gold medal in the World Trail Orienteering Championships. His points score was one higher than silver-medallist David Irving, USA. “That was the culmination of a lot of training and experience over the years”, says Evaldas. “But Japan is also a different country – different people. Maybe Japan’s aura helped me.” The Lithuanian Paralympic team did well overall, returning home with silver medals for team performance.
In 2007 in Ukraine Evaldas was again in the medals, second to Roberta Falda, Italy with the same points score but more time used at the timed controls. He has been able to continue to represent his country as a result of consistent performances in the Lithuanian Championships; as he says, “That is why I can start in World Championships – only the best orienteers of the country go to world level”. And at elite level in Lithuania there are currently about 10 handicapped orienteers including two in wheelchairs, so he has to keep on top of the game all the time.
“I feel calm and focussed out on the course”
I asked Evaldas about his preparation for big competitions – and does he feel nervous? “Getting in the right frame of mind for a big competition comes naturally to me, but like almost everyone, I am a bit nervous before the start. But after the start I have no time to feel nervous. I feel calm and focussed when I am out on the course – rain can prevent me from getting the best results, but not much else”. He feels that the best way of training is to take part in competitions, although before big competitions the Lithuanians hold 1-2 weeks of training camps. “I try to take part in many events in Lithuania and nearby countries. In Lithuania we have about 10 competitions during the year. The most important are, of course, the national championships, and other competitions (that can be outside the country, e.g. the Latvian Championships) that give points for qualifying for World Championship selection”.
Evaldas is generally satisfied with TrailO’s rules and procedures, and he says he likes the ‘new’ mapping scale of 1:4,000 that has been used rather more in recent years. He enjoys competing against the clock and is a fan of TempO, the fully-timed competition which becomes an integral part of the World Championships this year. Last year in Scotland he was 39th in the unofficial TempO competition, a below-par result because the pouring rain throughout that day did not suit him.
Making TrailO more popular
The mountain bike orienteer Davide Malchado, the Athlete of April, asked Evaldas: “How do you see TrailO’s future?” “TrailO definitely has a future!” says Evaldas. “More and more people are taking part in TrailO, and that’s good, but we still need to do a lot more to popularise TrailO.” One of the best ways to achieve that, Evaldas believes, is to organise it as a new activity for clubs or groups of handicapped (and able-bodied) people. “They just have to try. Orienteering is like legal drugs :-), hard to drop the habit once you have tried!”
Davide also asked: “What are your goals in this sport?” “With more and more participants, competition will be more intense,” says Evaldas, “probably more ‘professional’. But I’m not afraid of harder competition! I participate for fun (but with passion), and as a good way of spending free time. Good competition results are a bonus!”
And, one can add, TrailO has brought back real meaning to a life which, 19 years ago, seemed to have a very restricted future indeed.
The Athlete of June will be the Finnish foot orienteer and current Middle distance World Champion Minna Kauppi. Evaldas asks her the following question: What are your goals for the forthcoming World Championships, on your home ground?
Text: Clive Allen
Previous Athletes of the Month
January 2012 Alison Crocker (USA)
February 2012 Morihiro Horie (JPN)
March 2012 Polina Malchikova (RUS)
April 2012 Ionut Zinca (ROU)
May 2012 Tobias Breitschädel (AUT)
June 2012 Ivo Tišljar (CRO)
July 2012 Matthias Kyburz (SUI)
August 2012 Marika Hara (FIN)
September 2012 Lizzie Ingham (NZL)
October 2012 Tonis Erm (EST)
November 2012 Marit Wiksell (SWE)
December 2012 Tatiana Ryabkina (RUS)
February 2011 Olga Novikova (KAZ)
March 2011 Olli-Markus Taivainen (FIN)
April 2011 Emily Benham (GBR)
May 2011 Søren Saxtorph (DEN)
June 2011 Tove Alexandersson (SWE)
July 2011 Olav Lundanes (NOR)
August 2011 Thierry Gueorgiou (FRA)
September 2011 Erik Skovgaard Knudsen (DEN)
October 2011 Lauri Kontkanen (FIN)
November 2011 Annika Billstam (SWE)
December 2011 Anna Füzy (HUN)
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