You wouldn’t know it from watching him, but Inuvik’s Jim Underwood Day was more surprised than anyone else in the room he made TeamNT.
“It’s a relief,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for the games for a very long time. In the last games I didn’t do as well as I wanted to, so I wanted to see how I improved over the past two years. So the trials were a really big part in that.
“I would like to shout out my brother, James Day Jr. He’s been a very big part in what I’ve accomplished today.”
Day was one of 10 Beaufort-born athletes to be named to TeamNT’s Northern Games squad, leading the pack with 36 points accumulated from 11 different events.
Inuvik was host to two separate Arctic Winter Games trials Jan. 23-25, with both snowshoe racers braving the blizzard along the Mackenzie River and Northern Games athletes showing off their skills at their traditional craft.
Snowshoers competed in eight separate races, starting at the 100 metre race and moving up to 400, 800 and 1,500 metre races. Then, the real leg of the race began with a five kilometre race, followed by seven-and-a-half kilometre and 10 kilometre races.
In total, seven athletes were selected for Team NT’s snowshoe race, including Austin Van Loon and Joel Arey from Tsiigehtchic, Jessie Hawthorne from Fort McPherson, and Kierra McDonald and Julianne Chipesia from Inuvik.
“It feels pretty good. I had to race really hard,” said McDonald, who expressed her thanks to Jeffrey Amos, the host coordinator. “Jeff was a lot of help with everything, teaching us the proper ways to snowshoe.”
Athletes now have a month and some change to prepare for the big week in Whitehorse, which runs from March 15 to 21. Each camp is preparing their practices in their own way. The snowshoers will be working on their cardio and their ability to cover varied terrain — since Whitehorse is substantially hillier than Inuvik — while the northern games athletes are honing in their physical conditioning and technique.
Both sports share a common comradery. In either case, athletes spent as much time supporting each other as they spent competing against one another.
“It always feels great to make this team,” said Noel Cockney of Tuktoyaktuk. “It was pretty tight between Chris Stipdonk and I, we were always head to head. We were both pushing each other.
“It’s all part of the games. You’re not just trying to better yourself but also to help your competitors out. When you’re pushing each other, you’re going to potentially push yourself to that limit as well.”
Cockney was one of several local veterans to the traditional northern games who will be representing the territory come March. For some, like Stipdonk who missed the opportunity to join the team last time because of bad weather grounding a plane, it was a chance at redemption. For others, it was simply the fruit of their labour.
“I’m really happy,” said Mikaya Jacobsen, also of Tuktoyaktuk. “This is my third year going. After I get home I will be practicing every day.
“Thanks to everybody. The ones that made it are going to have a lot of fun.”
She will join nine fellow Beaufort-born athletes at the games, including Underwood Day, Cassandra Collison and Michelle Conley from Inuvik, Byron Kotokak, Davie Kutpana, Edwin Pokiak, Jasmin Gruben and Noel Cockney from Tuktoyaktuk and Kobe Alexie of Fort McPherson.
Overall, the athletes all agreed they were humbled to be named to TeamNT and thanked their supporters for helping them get this far.
“I want to thank my mom for pushing me to get out training,” said Van Loon. “I’m going to be snowshoeing every two days and resting every other day.
“Gotta train hard.”