Last month Brodie interviewed Mary Fleming, previous national representative at JWOC, WOC and many World Cups, now also stepping up to coach/management roles. Mary was part of the trio of superb team officials at the 2023 WOC just held in Flims, Switzerland, and was also part of the management team at WOC 2022 in Denmark. Mary is originally from Mt Macedon in Victoria where she started orienteering in primary school, but now lives near Leeds in the UK where she is about to start a role as a graduate ecologist. She has spent the last two years studying her masters in Biodiversity and Conservation whilst working as a club development officer for two UK orienteering clubs. In these roles she has developed an 8-week adults introduction to orienteering course which has been showcased at the British Orienteering Federation Club Development Conference.
Hi Mary, you have just got back home from WOC in Switzerland, can you tell us a bit about your week and what your role was?
It was a fantastic week, the kind of week where each day you have to pinch yourself that you’re in such an amazing place with a great group of people doing something you love – which for me was helping all of our runners be in the best position to race well and to ensure they were all having a good time as well! I think Tash and Reni would agree that once you’ve run some of these competitions yourself you can go into a coaching week thinking about what support you would like to have if you were running. So for us this meant team leaders meetings, relaying all the important info back to our athletes to make sure they knew exactly what they were doing logistically, talking through maps and race prep, head chefing, getting everyone out the door on time, kit checks, quarantine, pre start and finish zone support, talking through nerves, start blocks and team orders, hyping up the team and ensuring there is always a good team morale – which could easily be achieved with a good lunch spread, some pancakes or pizza :D. I suppose I also had the special tasks of fetching Brodies coffee’s, letting Ewan behave like my annoying little brother, shouting the ridiculous requests out of the coaching zone like ‘Henry you look like Sh*t’ or ‘your butt looks great Pat’ (it apparently hypes them up) and surrogate NZ coaching for Lizzie who decided we did a better job of it! It’s a busy week being part of the management team and you always need to be thinking about every possible scenario that could go wrong and have a plan for dealing with it – whether it’s an injury, forgotten kit or just a shortage of bread and chocolate milk… but it’s really rewarding when you can see everyone putting their all into each run and appreciating the fact that they get to be there! It’s also worth mentioning the work that people put in behind the scenes for planning (particularly Tash and Reni) and preparation (The 1Oceania call Matt Ogden invited our team to was a real stand out)!
We found a bit of time to have some fun too – Ewan and I collected a full athletes sticker book (which involved trading a lot of Ralph Streets for Aston Keys), there were plenty of team swims in the beautiful crystal blue Crestasee lake, some fun to be had with the sponsor stalls in the arena, a fantastic after party, time to catch up with all the Aussie supporters and just soaking up the general atmosphere of such an incredibly well organized event, were all highlights. We were effectively in an athletes village with all teams where we could walk to the arena for all finals, catch public transport to all quarantines (including a cable car for the long) and only had to head out our front door for the prize giving stage and concerts each race day, which were a lot of fun!
Sounds like you had a great week, I definitely appreciated everything Tash, Reni and yourself did for the team! So, you are living in the UK at the moment, how did you end up there and do you plan to stay, or come back to Australia?
I moved here in 2015 with the intent to do a couple of European orienteering seasons then come home. The UK was an easy base as I have dual citizenship and family here. After the 2015 season a couple of us Aussies (including you Brodie) took an amazing road trip, all the way from WOC in Inverness down to Monaco which got me a little hooked on the euro travel. I took a job over winter… a few seasons rolled on, I moved to Sheffield (one of the best UK cities for orienteering), got a boyfriend… a few more seasons rolled on, covid happened and before you know it the two years is almost ten. But I think ten is more than a fair stint so (with great influence by peer pressure cough*Tash*) Nathan (the bf) and I are planning to come back to Aus in the next couple of years. We plan to stay in the UK until the end of WOC 2024 in Edinburgh, then head back home as soon as we can get organised! Were super excited about the great group of orienteers out in Melbourne at the moment so definitely want to get back soon to get involved with that, and I think we have some great experiences and ideas from training with UK and Scandi clubs to bring back with us!
Great news, it will be awesome to bring those experiences and ideas back to Aus! You have run for Australia several times, which was your favourite and why?
I have great memories from every competition I have been to, even though most of them have their ups and downs! I don’t think I have a favourite but some highlights include: starting in a castle in the 2018 Czech world cup, the crazy support from the crowd during the run through at 2019 Norway WOC, the opening and closing ceremonies at the 2019 China world cup, and I know I didn’t run this one, but as a team official, cheering Aston into a podium position in the finish of last year’s WOC sprint in Denmark was pretty special!
So that brings us to a big question, will we see you in the green and gold again?
Yeah I hope so! Most Aussies who know me, know that I got quite a nasty virus at the 2019 China World Cup and consequentially was diagnosed with a post viral fatigue that really affected my nervous system. I was really unwell between 2020-21 and took a year off of work, had to stop exercising completely and my mental health greatly suffered. So, it’s been a pretty slow road getting back to normal, and although I am not 100% there yet I have started running again and am keen to get competitive again in sprint and middles and hopefully relay and long will follow! I am hoping to run in this year’s European champs/world cup final in Italy in October and see where it goes from there!
Well goodluck with the comeback, it would be great to see you back and racing! And how about the team management/coaching, do you see yourself doing more of that in the future?
Cliché, but having become really unwell right after the best season I’d ever had, where I had broken into the WOC team, really taught me how much I appreciate getting outdoors and going orienteering. Whether its racing in the green and gold, or hanging controls on a sat morning to then teach some newbies how to make their way around the easiest course ever, I am happy to be out doing it! The last two years being a WOC team official instead of being on the start line, has been difficult mentally at times but having the opportunity to travel and train with the best in our country again has been brilliant! You can see the motivation and self-belief in our team/squads is ever increasing and I think owing to some great recent Oceania results we are coming out of an era where OA runners are convinced we’re always on the back foot for not living in Europe, so it’s a really exciting time to be involved with the team whether that’s running or coaching! So yeah I think when I am not running you will definitely see my hand shoot up to be a team official!
Ok, lets get into the quickfire round. Best orienteering experience?
Oringen 2013 Boden. If you know, you know.
Favourite terrain in the world?
Sprint – Italian old town
Forest – Scottish sand dunes
But I also do have a soft spot for Victorian gold mining – there is no place like home!
Sprint or forest orienteering?
Can’t choose – it always feels so nice to be out in the fresh air in the forest, but there is also nothing like a fast techy sprint race! I love them both!
Go to brain food: What do you eat before you head out the door?
I will literally run after eating anything, but a PB, banana and honey sanga is great pre-race fuel!
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I have a worm farm to reduce food waste.
Thanks Mary, looking forward to seeing what you get up to in the coming years! Anywhere people can follow you?
I don’t post so much these days but love to keep up with what Aussie Orienteers are up to on socials so feel free to connect with me on FB (https://www.facebook.com/maryflem) or Insta (@flemagram)