Mysterious box leads to table tennis success for Nunavik
Team wins multiple medals this week at Arctic Wnter Games
Updated at 10:55 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 4
Just over 20 years ago, Aftab Khan got a call about a mysterious box.
Inside, was a dusty old table tennis table.
“Do you want it?” asked the caller from the Inukjuak youth centre. “It’s yours.”
Khan didn’t know it at the time, but that surprise gift was the start of Inukjuak’s homegrown table tennis program, and the earliest steps toward Nunavik’s multiple appearances at the Arctic Winter Games in the sport.
“When I arrived in Nunavik in 2000, there was not a lot of stuff happening in town,” Khan said during a short break between Nunavik’s matches at MacDonald Island Park in Wood Buffalo, Alta., where this year’s Games are being held.
When the table appeared, Khan, who works for the Kativik school board in Inukjuak, showed it to the students.
“I cleaned it, and after the kids were asking ‘wow, can we play?’ So we got some table tennis balls and paddles and started opening the school from eight o’clock to 10 o’clock every night,” he said.
Khan prepared a sign-up sheet for students to play after school.
He said it was common for up to 70 kids to sign up for one night of playing.
“Some nights some kids didn’t have a chance to play because there were so many kids in the lineup,” he said.
With help from the Makivik Corp., Khan and other organizers were able to buy two more table tennis tables and equipment.
“That’s how we started our table tennis program,” Khan said.
There are now eight players competing for the team at the Arctic Winter Games and many more who play in Inukjuak.
One of those players is Daniel Samisack, who’s been playing table tennis for about a year.
He said his favourite part of the game is being coached by Khan.
Khan smiled at that.
“I would not say I taught Nunavik how to play table tennis, I would say Nunavik taught me how to be a coach,” he said.
Earlier this week, Samisack experienced one of the surprise perks of being an athlete at the games.
He was one of eight athletes who got to meet Prince William over a video call earlier this week.
“I never expected to do something like that,” he said, adding he told the Prince of Wales he was from Nunavik, Quebec.
Despite being one of the founders of the program and its coach, Khan hasn’t been able to travel with the team to competitions until recently. Now that he’s here, he said he’s thrilled with how the team is performing, already garnering several medals.
Nunavik’s Simon Aliqu won a silver medal in table tennis singles, 2007 or later male.
Nunavik has also won several medals in table tennis team events: silver, for doubles in both 2004 and 2007 or later mix; silver for doubles 2007 or later, in both male and female divisions; bronze in both the 2004 or later and 2007 or later team mix events; and bronze for doubles 2004 or later male.
“I think the hard work paid off,” Khan said.
“I think it was two nights ago, I was talking to my wife and I told her it was worth it, spending that time after school with the kids and coaching them.”
“I’m very proud right now,” Khan smiled.
Nunavut athletes have also won numerous medals in table tennis competitions this week at the Arctic Winter Games.
In team events, Nunavut won silver medals in the 2004 or later mix, 2007 or later mix, 2004 or later female doubles and 2004 or later male doubles events.
Bronze medals went to four Nunavut players in individual events — to Alice Anablak in 2004 or later female singles, Caleb Bolt in 2004 or later male singles, Ava Betty Ahegona in 2007 or later female singles and Nicolas Shappa in 2007 or later male singles.
In team table tennis events, Nunavut won silver in both 2004 or later and 2007 or later doubles mix, and in 2007 or later male and female doubles.
Correction: This article has been updated to note the school board that Aftab Khan works for
Good stuff Inukjuak. Kids given support and care and a chance to get involved in activities do well and go a long way; much more of that could be used throughout the region, Kudos.