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Spanaway Company Changing the Way Races are Timed

Orbiter Newspaper Article. As company president and CEO Gregory Stewart of Orbiter was once quoted, “we as a Spanaway based company strive to make it easier and inexpensive for everyone to time any races from school P.E. classes to organized races.” Orbiter Courtesy.

Answers to important questions nobody has asked me yet:

Q: What’s the history of Orbiter and its missions?

A: When Greg Stewart was a kid attending school in Lakewood, his classmates called him “Gordo.” He was overweight but then discovered the thrill of running. As Stewart recalled the inspiration that arises in this epiphany, “I peeled the weight off and my self-esteem went up.”

Four decades later, he still believes in the power of running. This passion turned into a company that produced a piece of technology that help make timing aerobic events much easier. This man who goes by Stewart, is president and CEO of Spanaway-based company named Orbiter with the absolute goal of thinking new ways to make timing races both inexpensive and light-weight for everyone.

The company’s origin began in 2006 at the William Factory Small Business Incubator. Its mission is to develop a technology that allows races to be timed with only a person onsite to time the race. They’ve also developed a side-antenna that’s designed for timing aerobic events that can be used for any events. This use of radio frequency identification allows to either administer training, monitor physical education classes, and other events.

The race timing technology has been used mostly by small events including Seattle’s annual Big Climb. This comes with the capability of timing larger events with thousands of participants. The positive impact it has and its uniqueness stands out with an example of it awarded four patents.

Q: How do you use Orbiter and what are the benefits?

Orbiter allows one person wearing an RFID reader sling to record runner’s times as they pass. There is no such need for a crew of people to set up overhead structures and mats at the start and finish of races. Orbiter’s software makes recording the race easy as it counts the results in real time with no experience required. Races can rent the technology for $295 per event which includes the cost of RFID-embedded bibs for each runners being $1.95. The technology comes cheap which can save organizers as much as a $1 per runner.

Stewart is also particularly excited about the side-antenna technology and its ease of use. Users can set up the orange bollard at the finish area and give RFID wrist tags to participants. So convenient in fact, there are 30 military bases and numerous schools that have purchased the devices for fitness assessments and to time recreational events. The technology makes it easy to time a race that avoids the tiring acts of marking racers’ hands (a tracking method used by some to track laps), tally laps, or even hold a stopwatch. Orbiter makes it all easy and simple, anyone from beginning timers to veterans can use it.

Stewart’s goal is to get the technology in every school with it already used by schools such as Los Angeles. He would hear stories about how the device made an impact on students that academics normally wouldn’t. This is epitomized by one interaction with Stewart of one PE coach who recalled how Orbiter helped a failing student to become successful.

“I talked to a PE teacher who once said when he first started using the Orbiter there was a student who was flunking out of school and flunking out of PE due to his disinterest. But when he first started running with Orbiter, he realized how his grade was just between him and the machine. To him it feels like a game that he can and want to accomplish.

The teacher said it was like night and day…and the kid started to excel. He got an A and then it bled over to the academic side. It was this affirmation of his effort as small as a beep that urges him to compete and do better. There are so many people that think athletics are worthless. But in reality they are probably one of the most important areas of education.”

Q: On a side-related note, can you tell us a story of what happened to the two ladies in the OAR Northwest’s Columbia River rowing expedition? 

A: After a run earlier this week, Rachael Mallon was surprised by how sore she felt. “I guess you use different muscles rowing than you do running,” Mallon said.

As graduates of the University of Puget Sound they only have short amount of time to explore the northwest. After some thinking, they decided to switch from their usual running to rowing in the Columbia River. They’d hoped to finish by November 4th where they would start from the south of the Canadian border to then row to Astoria, Oregon. But relentless rain and wind presented an obstacle that threatened to blow them off schedule.

On one frigid wet night, they pulled into County Line Park near Kelso to camp. They found the showers closed and it seemed that they have to live out the elements. Fortunately for them, a camp worker happened by where she then opens the shower and offered them a warm meal. Mallon recalled how much the lady helped them without asking for anything, recalling how much of a sweet woman she was.

They would then row for the OAR Northwest and make presentations at local schools along the way. They’d hoped to end the trip at the Columbia River bar. But challenges presented themselves via wicked weather and in addition to a small-craft warnings that changed their mind. After some readjustments, they declared that the Astoria Bridge to be their finish line. Not only did the conditions not impede both women, but they were able to finish a day early on November 3rd.


University of Puget Sound graduates Leah Shamlian, left, and Rachael Mallon recently completed their 750-mile rowing adventure on the Columbia River. OAR NorthwestCourtesy
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