Time stood still one year ago in the wrestling gym at Canada Games Park. Then, Eekee Avalak won Nunavut’s first gold medal at a Canada Games to the roar of the crowd, capturing the hearts of the nation.
Last year, the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games produced stories that were told from coast to coast to coast, including the debut of rugby sevens, Jaida Lee becoming the first woman to play men’s baseball at the Games, the return of men’s lacrosse and the debut of women’s lacrosse. But this moment in Avalak’s journey resonated with the entire country.
As they are for many, the Canada Games were just a step in Avalak's long term athlete development. The 19-year-old Inuk wrestler from Cambridge Bay has been busy over the last 12 months, competing from Italy to California, as well as within Canada.
In July, we caught up with Avalak at the 2023 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in Kjipuktuk (Halifax).
"It's pretty cool to have the opportunity to compete against other Indigenous people," he said. "It means a lot, and it's very important because you also get to learn from other people's culture, and then you get to share a bit of yours."
On the mat, Avalak went undefeated en route to another gold medal for his team.
"This one, it's one for the books, and I'll always remember it," he said. "This will be my last time competing on Team Nunavut, because I've aged out, but that doesn't mean I won't be coaching them in the future."
Avalak has already left his home territory as he pursues his wrestling career, living in Edmonton and training with the team at the University of Alberta – where he's proud to be attending in the fall.
As he continues to train at the next level, Avalak has his sights set even higher.
"My goal is to ultimately become an Olympian," he said. "I know that's going to be tough, but I'm willing to take that journey and all the sacrifices."
Avalak also expressed a keen interest in returning to Nunavut to coach once his career begins to wind down, and reinforced the importance of giving back to his community.
"Then one day, when I'm done competing, I'm going to go home and share my knowledge."
As for the immediate future, Avalak continues to forge a path toward achieving his goals, wrestling against the best competition he can find. And in the year since his gold medal victory pulled him into the national spotlight, he has continued to find joy beyond the mat.
His favourite things about the sport? "Reuniting with people and meeting new people."