Hay River welcomes about 1,100 athletes for track and field

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Belle Smith, a seven-year-old student from Ecole Boreale, displays the medal she won as the top athlete in the girls’ mite division at this year’s NWT Track and Field Championships.
Paul Bickford/NNSL photo

For the 29th year, a celebration of track and field has been held in Hay River.

The annual NWT Track and Field Championships, which took place from June 5 to June 7, attracted about 1,100 athletes.

“It was another spectacular event,” said J.J. Hirst, one of two co-ordinators for the championships. “Everyone was great from our volunteers to our athletes to our coaches. Everything was great. If we could change one thing, it would be the weather. I wouldn’t change anything else. Everyone was awesome.”

The athletes faced temperatures in the single digits, mixed in with occasional drizzle and even a threat of snow flurries.

“As far as the meet, there’s no tougher kids in the entire world than Northern kids,” said Hirst, noting they showed up for the event and participated despite the weather. “They ran their hardest. They threw their furthest. They jumped like crazy.”

Hirst admitted that the low temperatures did create some concern about the athletes.

“We are a little bit worried,” he said. “You’re always worried whether it’s too cold, or whether it’s too hot.”

However, he added the coaches looked after their athletes and made sure that they were prepared.

Hirst noted that close to 15 new records were set at the meet, which he said was surprising considering the weather

“It just kind of goes to show you how extraordinary some of those athletes were to go against the elements and still come out with a record,” he said.

Dian Papineau-Magill, the volunteer co-ordinator for the event, also said everything went really well for the championships, despite the low temperatures.

“We had some real troopers, because the weather wasn’t the greatest,” she said. “And I tell you little plastic rain ponchos, as cute as they are, don’t really cut it.”

Over 250 volunteers helped run the championships this year.

One of the youngest athletes at the meet was Belle Smith, a seven-year-old student at Ecole Boreale, who won the overall first-place medal in the girls’ mite division, highlighted by first-place showings in several running events and the standing long jump.

Belle said she loved getting the medal.

“I enjoy that I get nice ribbons and I get to have fun running,” she said.

Many politicians from around the NWT were on hand for the opening ceremonies of the championships.

Among them was Alfred Moses, who is the GNWT minister responsible for youth.

“I’ve always supported the games in my role as a Member of the Legislative Assembly,” said Moses, the MLA for Inuvik Boot Lake. “This is something that we’ve always supported as a government – sport, recreation and physical activity – and really appreciate the work of all the volunteers and that the Town of Hay River really steps up. This is one of the premier events in the Northwest Territories.”

Moses noted that he has attended the championships six times as a minister and participated five times as an athlete in his younger years, when he competed as a long-distance runner.

“For me as an athlete, it was an excellent experience,” he said. “I always like the competition, but also the camaraderie and the friendships that you made. As a leader within the government, it’s always great to see the volunteers step up. It’s great to see the coaches and the work that they do with their athletes, and just everybody coming together.”

Moses even recalled J.J. Hirst as another runner.

“I remember me and J.J. used to compete against each other way back in the day,” he said.

Of the approximately 1,100 athletes who participated in this year’s championships, over 800 came from outside of Hay River.

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