Arctic sports, Dene games highlight athletes’ endurance, strength

Team Nunavut’s Naja Pearce carrying on family tradition of Arctic sports competition

Naja Pearce attempts the two-foot high kick, one of several Arctic sports she’ll be competing in at the Arctic Winter Games. (Photo by Madalyn Howitt)

By Madalyn Howitt

Naja Pearce stands straight and still, her eyes focused on the small sealskin ball hanging from a cord a few feet in front of her.

She’s got her white earbuds in and she steadies her breathing.

Then a running start and a graceful hop later, Pearce’s legs are fully extended in the air in front of her, her body forming a perfect 90 degree angle and her toes just centimetres from her target.

Pearce, 19, was attempting the two-foot high kick on Monday, one of several events she’s competing in at the Arctic Winter Games in Wood Buffalo, Alta., as the only female member of Team Nunavut’s Arctic sports contingent. 

Her mother introduced her to Arctic sports at a young age, she said, and she has competed at the 2018 Arctic Winter Games and international Arctic sports competitions since 2017. 

Pearce is now teaching her younger brothers how to do some of the events too.

Naja Pearce of Iqaluit at the Arctic sports competition on Monday at MacDonald Island Park. (Photo by Madalyn Howitt)

“This will be our family tradition,” she said.

It may not be as widely known as hockey or volleyball, but Pearce said that Arctic sports have a lot to offer athletes and spectators.

“A lot of people think Arctic sports is one specific game, but Arctic sports has a variety of games,” she said.

Those include events like the one-foot high kick, two-foot high kick, Alaskan high kick, kneel jump, sledge jump, triple jump, arm pull, airplane, one hand reach, head pull and knuckle hop. 

The games are meant to show off the athletes’ endurance and strength.

“We do a lot of co-ordination, a lot of full body strength where you have to actually lift yourself up, so it takes a lot on your body, but at the end of the day it’s really worth it because you know that you can do it,” Pearce said. 

“Probably one of my favourites is the high kick because it’s probably one of the easiest.”

Doing something like Arctic sports is also a great way to take care of yourself, Pearce explained. She said the activity is an outlet, a way to get out of her head. That’s why she encourages a lot of young people to participate in athletics.

“Sports can do so much for you and your mental health,” she said. “It’s fun, you get some new views, you make lifelong friends here.”

Pearce also competed in the triple jump Monday, finishing eighth out of 15 competitors with a total distance of 6.344 metres jumped.

In triple jump, athletes jump off both feet three times in a row in an attempt to jump as far as they can. 

They can choose to do a running start or stand still. They do not have to keep their balance upon landing, but the athlete’s two feet must remain no more than shoulder width apart. 

Team Nunavut Arctic sports coach Akpak Duval said the team is performing “at a calibre I’ve never seen before.” 

“They’re making me really proud as a first-time coach,” he said.

Sammy Kaitak of Nunavik, right, battles for control in stick pull, one of several Dene game events at the Arctic Winter Games on Monday in Wood Buffalo, Alta. Kaitak went on to win a silver ulu medal in the event. (Photo by Madalyn Howitt)

The Arctic sports are being held nearly every day of the weeklong competition at MacDonald Island Park. In the arena next door, the Dene games are also a highlight.

These events include finger pull where competitors hook fingers and pull, snowsnake where athletes throw spears in the tradition of hunting caribou, stick pull where two competitors stand side-by-side and pull a stick to gain control, hand games and pole push. 

Nunavik, in particular, has made a big impression in the Dene games so far, walking away with silver and bronze medals in the stick pull events and sweeping the podium in the female open snowsnake event. 

Arctic sports and Dene games will continue until Friday at the Suncor Community Leisure Centre in Wood Buffalo. 

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(1) Comment:

  1. Posted by bravo! on

    Bravo Naja, and that is a beautiful picture taken!

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