Welcome! You have arrived at Algirdas Bartkevičius' first blog post. I believe you have a lot of questions. So today it will be more of an introduction. I will explain the purpose for which I started writing and share some of the most important moments in my career. I will try not to expand, but telling about a period of 10 years in a nutshell is not easy. Determine that it will take some time, but you will not be disappointed!
In this blog, I will share my journey to prepare for the World Championship 2023. Here I will put out my dream and share what I think could help to achieve it. I will be open and reveal the secrets of how to prepare for the desired competition, how to win national championship, or prepare for international starts. I don’t consider myself an orienteering sports expert, more like a person who isn’t afraid to experiment together with you and is looking for new ways to succeed.
In the coming posts, I will share a step-by-step plan of how to get better, not just in orienteering, but in any other activity in life. Next, you will have to try it for yourself and decide if it gives you effect. I can only guarantee that everyone will find something valuable if they want to, take an interest and look for it! What I offer you is a mixture of the best ideas of other, very clever and talented people, figured out a long ago. For everything you find wise here, you should thank those who came up with it many years before me. For everything you find stupid here, think it’s my fault.
Why now? Because I feel the desire and responsibility to share what I myself have tried and experienced in orienteering. I know that I have an extraordinary opportunity to get to know the culture of this sport up close: I am talking both about Scandinavia, where the sport was born, and about the world stage itself. I interact with World Champions and a huge group of professional athletes. We discuss different ways of orienting and share the "secrets". Well, I'm more of a listener… A good friend has asked me "why would anyone want to share their secrets with you?". Probably for the same reason why I want to share them with you now. We are what our surrounding is and it is a two-way street. Only by giving something can I hope to get something myself. At the same time, words alone do not guarantee success. First, the idea to be sent needs to be as clear as possible. Second, the recipient must not only hear but also understand what is being said. And finally, it still takes 10,000 hours of practice to master it.
I have been involved in orienteering since I was a child. Both of my parents have represented the Lithuanian national team and participated in a number of championships and other international competitions. My mother works as a coach at Kaunas Sports School "Gaja", has a large group of talented kids and even has become a coach of the year back in 2018. I will not hide, my family lives orienteering and that atmosphere just lingers at home. Now, after all, I can safely state that one of the most important reasons why I succeeded at a young age was family support. Just like yesterday, I remember the never-ending evenings when we sat down and analysed races with Dad after them. We were able to discuss everything from mistakes to competitors or the terrain, and already the next morning, running in Petrašiūnai, I dreamed of victory in the upcoming competition.
I was never afraid to have big dreams. From the desire to win the European Youth Championship to the gold medal at the World Junior Championship. I cannot answer where those desires came from. My parents never pushed me to choose such path, but that fire burning in me never seemed to go away. More than once I’ve been asked, “And what’s in it?” And I just didn’t know what to answer because, in fact, I didn’t even understood the question.
After winning all the most important races in the M12 age group and still being a year younger I decide to go my own way. Encouraged by my parents I started to compete in M14 upcoming year. I knew it was going to be hard, but I wasn’t afraid to lose. It only encouraged me to improve even more. I was more and more motivated to be the best, to overtake rivals regardless of age. Already at 14 I have been honored to represent the Lithuanian youth (M16) national team at the European Championship, and a year later the first podium came. Over the next year, I had the honor of participating in as many as five European Championships, climbing the podium seven times and winning two silver and one bronze medal.
Later came the desire to conquer the World. For the first chance, it took me to beat all 18 year old guys to get at least the last place on the team. And I can say that the generation back then was really talented. But my parents believed that with a stunning performance in the qualifiers, I might have a chance. And oh I was unstoppable. At the age of 16, I went to Poland for the first time to represent Lithuania at the World Junior Championship in the M20 age group. Sixteen!.. Of course "I died" on the long distance, but at the same time I realized that I was at home.
To get to 2015 bronze medal at the World Junior Championship in Norway I had to go a long and unknown way. Many did not like my solutions. There was a lot of hot discussions about my decisions and choice to participate in competitions in Sweden, instead of selections in Lithuania, starts in older age groups and many other non-standard actions. All while I poured sweat and constantly pressed myself to be even better, to run even faster, longer, more accurately. In 2014, after high school, I decided to even take a one year break to prepare for the final season in the M20 group. At the time, I was breathing orienteering.
2015: the last year in the junior class. Sounds simple, but for a child, it’s the end of the longest phase of life to date. As I mentioned, I manage to climb the EYOC podium as many as 7 times and take 3 medals. And even take the bronze medal at the World Junior Championship. Beside all that a total victory in Swedish league and 3 gold medals at Swedish Championship. Let us not forget that only a small number of Swedes succeed in this, and we are talking about a kid from Lithuania. In 2015, I was the king of the “sandbox”.
But there is always another side to the coin. I lived solely on result-based dreams, and as I mentioned, 2015 was the last year as junior. And what after? I will never be able to participate in JWOC again. And learning that you will never be able to do something again is a serious psychological challenge that you usually have to deal with a lot. The open emptiness just overwhelmed me. I no longer knew what I wanted in life. I lost direction. At the same time, I started one of the most difficult studies in Sweden - five years of applied physics and electronics at Linköping university. And having lived for orienteering until now, I decided to engage in other activities. I became secretary of my orienteering club, was responsible for training camps at the youth committee and had part-time job in the side of all that. Of course, without suspecting this, I tried to fill the emptiness left from orienteering.
I started to participate less and less in competition, and where I participated, I performed terribly… I went to the World Championships without ever running test races and of course I did not qualify for the finals. Friends both in the club and in the national team trusted me, and after another 5-10 minute mistake, I buried all the team hopes for any result. That feeling of helplessness in the woods when you realize that your actions will affect other people, to put it mildly, is cruel. I don't wish it to experience to anyone, but who did, they understands what it means when it seems that you no longer can breathe. One of the biggest setbacks that will accompany me for the rest of my life is the World Championship relay in Estonia in 2017. My teammates turned out to be heroic and sent me to the final leg in third place. Of course, it never smelled medals, but being among the six strongest teams and climbing the podium was really possible, which the Lithuanian team very rarely succeeds in. I did not finish either the sixth or the tenth. I am not afraid to take responsibility and I would certainly not turn the new opportunity down. What I'm afraid of is that I may never be able to repay this debt to my teammates again…
After every international competition, I was wondering if this was the last time coaches would give me an opportunity I didn’t even deserve. After all, it’s no wonder when my priorities wasn’t in sports in first place. Now after all, I can only thank them for not letting me go and believing when I was lost in life by myself… Of course, everything didn't just ended with poor results in competition. The news of the required foot surgery and the 8-month rehabilitation period in the summer of 2018 was like a cherry on a cake. If the bottom hasn’t been reached, then at least I know that it's deep. Nothing I would wish for other person.
I started seeing the light at the end of the tunnel in the fall of 2019 and was able to state the fact that after four years of searching, making mistakes and learning lessons, I realized what I wanted in life! The result? A vision to explore the limits of my possibilities in orienteering. Sounds maybe simple, but it took me four years to understand and change my attitude. That the fire that once burned with results and medals would light up again, but this time I want to demonstrate the best orienteering show I can achieve. One very important part of this goal is support (more on this in the future) and it has already been observed that such a vision is not of interest to any sponsor. Well, I can say that it doesn’t have to be interesting because it’s my personal source of motivation. That's the reason why I wake up every morning. Why the question of whether to train today or not just doesn't arise. And so that everything is not just words spoken in the air, I set the goal - to win the World Championship medal in 2023. Sounds silly? Naive? Maybe. As far as I know, no Lithuanian has done that. But it also seemed incredible to dream of winning an EYOC, or JWOC medal. Whether to win the Swedish biggest youth league or their championships. I understand that adult sport is on a whole other level, but it only motivates me more to do everything what is in my hands to get ready for 2023.