A racquet sports specialist, a national-level speedskater and one of the best young basketball players to ever come out of Yellowknife.
Those are the sporting occupations of the Sir John Franklin Athletics Hall of Fame class of 2019 as Pooja Chugh, Hannah Clark and Graeme Ryder were welcomed into the school’s hall on Friday evening.
Chugh is, without question, one of the best badminton and squash players ever produced by the territory. She competed in badminton at the Arctic Winter Games in 2008 and 2010, where she won bronze in the juvenile girls doubles in 2008 and bronze in the junior girls singles in 2010.
Squash was where she had most of her big national success. She represented the NWT at the Canadian Junior Championships in 2009 and 2011, where she finished in the top-eight each time, and also wore the colours at the Canada Winter Games in 2011.
Chugh went on to the University of Toronto after graduating from Sir John Franklin in 2011 and continued her squash prowess, completing a podium sweep in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Championships: bronze in 2011, silver in 2013 and gold in 2014.
Chugh said she never expected to get the call she did telling her she was being inducted.
“The feeling I have this evening is the same feeling I had when I first stepped on to the international stage,” she said. “The feeling of representing your school, territory or country is like no other.”
Representing Canada is something Chugh knows a bit about as she wore the maple leaf on more than one occasion. She made it to the round of 16 at the 2009 Canadian Junior Open and 2010 U.S. Junior Open and also played six events on the Professional Squash Association (PSA) circuit while attending school at the University of Sussex in England.
She also had some kind words for her teachers and coaches at the school.
“They selflessly dedicated so much time and effort to help me grow as a player and as a person,” she said. “These accomplishments are truly a testament to (them).”
Clark’s speedskating resume includes many ulus won at the Arctic Winter Games – 15 of them over four AWG in total – along with an appearance at the 2011 Canada Winter Games, where she finished in 14 th place overall in the girls division.
She went on to the University of Calgary to study kinesiology and eventually found herself at the Olympic Oval training centre and did so until the end of the 2018 season, when she retired from the sport.
But she was also a track and field athlete and competed with Sir John Franklin’s team four times, mostly on the track.
She recounted an unfortunate incident in javelin which didn’t go so well and that’s when she decided she would remain on the track instead of the field.
“Go fast and turn left – I knew how to do that already,” she said. “I figured the track was my safe space.”
Even with all of Clark’s accolades, she would fight the biggest battle of her life in 2014 and 2015 as she battled a thyroid cancer diagnosis. She never missed any competitions but since her training had suffered, she had to change tack and become a different style of skater.
“I had to learn how to skate as a tactical skater,” she said. “How to skate smart, get in the way of others and rely on those tactics rather than on endurance.”
It worked as she ended up competing at the Canadian Senior Team Selection Meet at the end of the 2015-2016 season, where she ended up 10 th overall.
She now works at a physiotherapy clinic in Calgary but came back to help coach Team NT at the Canada Winter Games this past February in Red Deer, Alta.
Her post-retirement goal is to help as many girls as possible become athletes and get the same chances she did.
“Sport helps young women develop confidence, leadership and teamwork skills,” she said. “I want to continue to what it embodies to be a high-calibre athlete because those same qualities make great leaders, friends and responsible members of society.”
Ryder was a student at Sir John Franklin from 2001 to 2004 and got the chance to represent the NWT at the 2002 and 2004 AWG as well as the 2001 Canada Summer Games. He eventually moved on to Alberta, where he attended Grande Prairie Regional College (GPRC) and played on the men’s basketball team at the school from 2005 to 2009, three of those season as team captain.
He got into coaching once his playing days were over, joining the GPRC women’s basketball squad as an assistant coach in 2012 and becoming the head coach in 2014. Ryder left GPRC to take up a job as an assistant with the men’s team at MacEwan University, a job he still holds today.
He said he was humbled to have the opportunity to return and become a member of the hall of fame.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been back in this gymnasium,” he said. “Some of my best memories in basketball were in this gym, whether we were playing or practising, being around the guys. There’s a banner or two on the walls that I was a part of and that’s still cool to think about.”
Ryder gave credit to people like Damien Healy, Cory Taylor and Tobi Taylor-Dusome for helping him to be able to play the sport he’s always loved.
“I was so lucky to be able to grow up in a place like Yellowknife, which is such a supportive city if you show a passion for sports,” he said.
The trio joins prior inductees such as Kerry Galusha, Kevin Koe, Jamie Koe, Mike Argue, Molly Milligan and Bill Burlington.