Nesta Leduc: Yukon’s golden girl of orienteering

Whitehorse's Nesta Leduc orienteers for the fun of it. The medals are just icing on the cake, she says. "Winning is nice, but it's not everything.

Whitehorse’s Nesta Leduc orienteers for the fun of it. The medals are just icing on the cake, she says.

“Winning is nice, but it’s not everything. I go out there not to win, I go out to have fun. If I win, yeah, it’s a bonus.”

Leduc had another great summer searching the woods for “control points” (check-points for orienteering).

The 80-year-old won three gold medals at the Canadian Orienteering Championships in Hamilton, Ont., two weeks ago.

She quickly points out she was the only one in the women’s 80-84 division. But you can’t win if you don’t compete – or reach the finish, for that matter.

“The first medal I ever got at nationals, I was the only one in my age category,” said Leduc. “That’s usually what happens, there’s not a lot of people in my age category. If there’s only three, as long as you finish you’re going to get a medal. So I have a box full of medals.

“It’s not what keeps me going. What keeps me going is the sport. It’s a lot of fun.”

Leduc had plenty of competition at the World Masters Orienteering Championships in Italy this past August. She beat a dozen others to win two bronze medals at the championship.

When she took up the sport, she didn’t foresee it leading to international competition and trips around the world.

“I don’t suppose so,” said Leduc. “I just started for fun and as I get older I have more time so I’ve been getting out a bit more.”

“You’re out there in the woods, you’re on your own, you have to make your own decisions. A lot of people think it’s scary, but I don’t think it’s scary at all. If you don’t get back, someone is always going to come and get you.”

Leduc moved to the territory from Great Britain in 1961 and was a doctor before retiring 15 years ago. She took up orienteering 20 years ago in Whitehorse.

“Orienteering is a lot of the same skills you have as a doctor, having to make decisions and having to stay on the ball, and having to stay focused,” said Leduc.

“I’ve always enjoyed walking and being in the outdoors and I’ve always enjoyed maps,” she added. “I think when (Whitehorse’s) Ross Burnett came he started the club and I thought, ‘That sounds pretty interesting. It’s two of the things I like doing.’”

Leduc even achieved world champion status a few years back. She won a gold and a silver at the 2009 World Masters Orienteering Championships in Sydney, Australia.

She also competed at world masters championships in Norway and Edmonton earlier on, but “at the first one I didn’t even make any finals,” said Leduc. “I had no idea what I was doing.”

The Yukon is a good place to learn the sport. The Yukon Orienteering Association hosts biweekly meets during the summer, organizes the territorial championship and has a great junior program. (Four of the seven national team members at the Junior World Orienteering Championship this summer were Yukoners.)

“It’s fantastic, it’s very well organized,” said Leduc, who is ubiquitous at YOA events. “I just enjoy it. I go out and practise with the younger guys.”

When she’s not orienteering, Leduc is active in other sports. She swims five times a week, cross-country skis during the winter and spends a lot of time walking.

“I usually ski five or six times a week,” said Leduc. “I walk in the summer probably seven times a week, usually for an hour, but sometimes for two or three.

“I’m addicted to exercise.”

The humble octogenarian sees nothing special about being so active at her age. She seemed a little baffled that a reporter wanted to ask her about her recent competitions.

Staying active in a person’s 80s and beyond is becoming more common, she said.

“This is going to be the norm. I think health care has generally gotten so much better. I think the reason I do alright is because I get out there a lot and I get out there because I enjoy it.”

More recently Leduc has added a new sport to her list of activities. She’s into geocaching, a relatively new pastime in which people use Global Positioning System devices to find registered containers called “geocaches” hidden around the world. Typically, within the container is a logbook for the finder to register their name and the date they found it. Sometimes the containers, which can be Tupperware or ammunition boxes, contain small items for trading, such as toys or trinkets.

“My new passion is geocaching,” said Leduc. “It’s almost electronic orienteering.

“You can do it anywhere in the world now. That’s one of the things I was doing on this trip. I found some in Toronto, some in Hamilton, some in Ottawa.”

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