HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-at-Home Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
For an athlete who has dedicated herself to an outdoor sport essentially hidden on the Canadian radar, Ottawa’s Emily Kemp has a remarkable international resume. She recently added another chapter.
For the past decade, the former Ottawa Orienteering Club athlete studied or worked and competed successfully in an elite environment in France for her first four years and in Finland, a major sport hotbed, for the past six years.
“As a Canadian in Finland, I’m always surprised when I mention orienteering and everyone either knows what it is or has done it themselves,” Kemp wrote in an email interview. Finland (pop. 5.5 million) has 400 clubs, 60,000 members.
Racing at the prestigious Finnish Relay Championships, Kemp and teammates Heini Saarimaki and Sanna Kauppila won the women’s competition for her Angelniemen Ankkuri Club for the first time in 23 years by 30 seconds over Pyrinto.
While Kemp’s speed over the course didn’t match her pace when she was a full-time athlete, her orienteering skills were extremely sharp and she remained calm and calculating throughout the second relay leg.
“It has been a huge goal for us to build a strong team together and have that translate to a performance. Even then, we could barely believe that it was happening when we ran into the finish as winners,” Kemp added.
That gold-medal effort was rather meaningful for Kemp. Firstly, she became a national champion in a second country. As a junior and senior racer, Kemp won seven Canadian titles in sprint, middle- and long-distance races.
Secondly, Kemp proved to herself her fitness was still high, after retiring as a full-time elite orienteering athlete three years ago. “I’m now happily focusing on work and going with the flow in terms of training and racing.”
Kemp retired as a high-performance athlete in 2017 to focus on her masters degree. She now works full time as a research and development scientist at start-up Gluco Modicum, developing a platform for non-invasive health monitoring.
In 2016, Kemp had a breakthrough season. She placed a North-American-best fourth in the women’s middle-distance race at the world championships in Stromstad, Sweden. At the 2017 worlds in Tartu, Estonia, she was fifth.
Her best showings at the European championships and on the World Cup circuit also came in 2016 in Jesenik, Czech Republic, when she placed fourth in the middle-distance race and seventh in the long-distance test.
At the 2012 world junior championships, a joyful Kemp landed firmly on the podium, winning the bronze in the long-distance race. Two years earlier, she was 13th in the middle-distance test at the junior worlds in Alborg, Denmark.
“I am amazed when I look back on my career because I see so much determination and dedication to become one of the best,” added Kemp, who raced her seventh world championship in 2019, finishing 26th in the middle-distance race.
“Equally as significant (to her fourth and fifth at worlds) is when I competed again in 2019, where the focus was still on being my best, but with more emphasis on finding joy in elite sport rather then focusing on a placement.
“I had a smile on my face as I ran into the finish of that last race because I had the feeling that I had done everything that I had wanted to do in elite sport. And that was a very important result to achieve.”
While Kemp can now be more selective about her racing schedule, she’s still dedicated to Angelniemen Ankkuri. She coaches a junior racer, leads a women’s workshop, organizes races, sets courses and sells coffee in the cafe.
Angelniemen Ankkuri is located in the city of Salo, which is about 90 minutes west of Helsinki. The club, which started in 1946, attracts racers from Turku, Helsinki and Jyvaskyla.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for over 47 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.