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Outlook on Team Nunavik-Québec
By Isabelle Dubois

In Nunavik, Quebec, like anywhere else in the Arctic, winter games are serious business. Indeed, participation in an international sports competition such as the biennial Arctic Winter Games, taking place in Fairbanks, Alaska, this year, is not something taken lightly by any of the nine circumpolar teams enlisted, and Nunavik is no exception.

Already a powerhouse in Arctic Sports (Inuit Games) and Dene Games, this guest contingent, also participating in the Badminton, Table Tennis, Snowshoe and Cross-Country Skiing competitions, undergoes a thorough selection process in the two years
leading up to the event.

“It’s a long process that is a reflection of our region’s athletic youth,” explains Nancianne Grey, Director of the Kativik Regional Government’s Recreation Department, responsible for coordinating the preparation and participation of Team Nunavik-Québec, which she will head as Chef de mission.

Following the Whitehorse 2012 Arctic Winter Games, in preparation for the next games, Nunavik communities were encouraged to hold local tryouts, which took place in the fall of that same year with the support of KRG’s Mission Staff.

Selected athletes were then invited to partake in coastal tryouts taking place in April 2013 in Kangiqsualujjuaq on the Ungava side and in July 2013 in Salluit on the Hudson coast.

“It’s a real privilege to witness first hand all the hard work these young athletes put into their discipline,” says Salluit Mayor Paulusie Saviadjuk.

During that time, Nunavik youth were also invited to submit their musical and/or performing art talents for the chance to be part of Team Nunavik-Québec’s cultural contingent. The Kangiqsujuaq Brazilian Drummers were chosen to represent the region. In October, Cultural Contingent Manager Karin Kettler organized a session for the group with consultant Sylvia Watt-Cloutier, a fellow professional throat singer and drum dancer, who worked with them to incorporate theatrical acts portraying Inuit seal hunting and ice fishing to the rhythm of their big Brazilian drums in preparation for their performances at the games.

Later, in November, over a hundred young athletes from all around Nunavik gathered in Kuujjuaq for the regional tryouts. In this final round of the selection process, competitors from 11 years old to those over 30 strived for a spot on the team.

Out of over 260 athletes that started out in the local tryouts, only 64 were going to make the cut. Although calibre and performance during the tryouts weighed in the balance of choice, athletes were also evaluated on their overall behaviour and attitude, which also play an important part when it comes to sports.

The desire to excel and the time the athletes devote to training has a lot of influence on their performance, as hard work and dedication tends to pay off. For Ahuya Snowball May, one of the athletes who will represent Nunavik in Arctic Sports, this has proven very valuable.

Having participated in the 2012 Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse in the Junior Male category, now 19 years old, this keen young man from Kuujjuaq will be moving on to Alaska in the Open Male category. Although this step into the big leagues gave him cold feet at first, thanks to members of the team’s mission staff, and family and friends who believed in him, it turned out to be the stimulation he needed to push himself further.

“Unlike some athletes who prefer not to participate in the events that they’re not good at and don’t even bother practicing them, I try to focus more on my weak points and participate in all of the [Arctic Sports] events,” he explains. “This also gives me a chance to get more overall points.” This strategy sure proved profitable as he came in first place over – all in his category during the regional tryouts.

In the Arctic Sports Open Female category, it was Deseray Cumberbatch of Inukjuak who took the gold overall. At 22 years old, she already has a lot of experience under her belt at the Arctic Winter Games, having participated in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012 with a lot of medals to show for her efforts. Up until the 2012 edition, she held the record for the Triple Jump event, with a distance of 7.9 metres.

Although she excels at any sport she decides to participate in, jumping is definitely one of Deseray’s strengths. “Because a lot of the events in Arctic Sports involve jumps, a big part of my training involves jumping exercises, whether in place or moving forward,” she reveals. “I also stretch all the time,” which also helps to reach that extra inch needed in her two favourite events: the one-foot and two-foot high kicks.

“That’s what the high kicks are all about,” agrees Ahuya, who also caught on to the importance of training for jumps when it comes to Arctic Sports. “I did some research online to find ways of jumping higher and found a plyometric program that basketball players use consisting of workouts that stimulate the muscles to become explosive.”

Responsible for their own training, both Ahuya and Deseray train almost every day. But as Ahuya points out: “it’s important to alternate the muscles that you work each day and to take at least one day off a week to give them time to rebuild and rest.”

Both of these athletes stay motivated by training or sharing their results with friends. While Deseray likes to train with her friend and fellow competitor Sarah Samisack, whom she also plays hockey with in their hometown of Inukjuak, Ahuya keeps in touch with his good friend Ned Adams Gordon from Aupaluk every day. “We follow the same training program, tell each other what we did, how it went, if we broke our personal records, and what we plan to train the next day.” And though they often have to compete against each other, Ahuya and Ned are also each other’s best supporters, encouraging one another every step of the way.

For Deseray, “playing sports is not only a good way to see friends, and make new ones, but it’s also a good way to stay healthy”. Ahuya, who believes in improved performance through a good diet and enough sleep, can also vouch for that.

Come competition day, training will definitely make a difference, but a well-rested body and mind will help stay focused on the target at hand. “Before each attempt, I concentrate on that little seal mark, how I’m gonna kick it, how I’m going to use my legs and my arms to jump higher,” describes Deseray.

“All that runs through my head at the same time before I’m ready to make my approach and jump,” emphasizes Ahuya. Concentration is key. As Ahuya explains, “you have to lock out every other person in the room looking at you; it’s just you and the seal.”

As in any other discipline, it is important to have good sportsmanship. ”Even though I’m very competitive, I try to be nice with everybody and try not to show off when I win or be a sore loser,” confesses Deseray. Both Ahuya and her also like to encourage others alike and give pointers to anyone who asks, which makes for good team spirit, even if they end up competing against one another in the Arctic Sports individual events.

Dedication and training is also the essence of other sports as well, whether for Dene Games, playing Badminton or Table Tennis, Snowshoeing or Cross-country Skiing. The all-female Cross-Country Ski team that will represent Nunavik at the Midget and Juvenile levels in the Alaska 2014 games are also a good example.

As part of the Kuujjuaq Cross-Country Ski Club, a pilot project that is run out of the region’s hub community for the past three winters, “these girls have been training together diligently three times a week since fall, before there was even snow,” pledges their coach Catherine Dumont. “They started out by running short and long distance outside for cardio or on treadmills at the Kuujjuaq Forum’s gym, where they also did strength training,” indicates Dumont. “When snow finally came, they even ran with only ski poles, an idea that Suzie Koneak, their local coach came up with while they awaited the right size ski boots to come in, as some of the girls had outgrown theirs since last winter.” Now that their equipment is in, this tight-knit team is back on their skis, “working on their technique, whether the classic stride, double polling or uphill, training for sprints and long distances,” explains Dumont, who is very proud of her girls.

Surely, all this dedication and hard work will pay off for Team Nunavik-Québec at the Arctic Winter Games in Fairbanks, Alaska, from March 15 to 22. But win or lose, what matters is that they’ll know they’ve all put in their best effort to be part of something bigger than themselves.