They come from a land of ice and snow, so when it’s time for sport, Team Nunavut heads indoors to the badminton court.
Nine young indigenous athletes make up the Nunavut badminton team, from communities thousands of kilometres apart. Now 10,000 kilometres of travel away from home, they have come together at the Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Alta.
Derrick Akeeagok, 16, is from Grise Fiord, the most northerly settlement in Canada at the southern tip of Ellesmere Island with a population of 140. People have cars or trucks, but there aren’t many roads. Doubles partner Davidee Kudluarok, 15, lives 2,000 km south on Sanikiluaq Island, in the middle of Hudson Bay. With a population of less than 900 people, it is Nunavuts most southerly settlement. Distance doesn’t leave much opportunity to practice together but the pair did win gold at the Arctic Winter Games last year and had time to practice during a nine day training camp in Vancouver before the Games.
“With the Iqaluit players, I go there to play two or three times a year,” says Akeeagok. “with the Sanikiluaq players, like Davidee, not as much.”
So what was the journey like to the Canada Games? Practice, practice, practice … and a flight itinerary that read “Grise Fiord to Resolute; Resolute to Arctic Bay; Arctic Bay to Pond Inlet; Pond Inlet to Iqaluit; Iqaluit to Ottawa; Ottawa to Vancouver; Vancouver to Calgary and a bus to Red Deer,” says Akeeagok. That’s over 10,000 km of flying.
Without the resources or competition that athletes might find in larger centres Nunavut’s badminton team remains all-in for the Canada Games.
“The memories here will be very good considering how much fun I’ve had with my team,” says Akeeagok. “We’re joking around a lot and bugging each other – strong bonds are built at the Games.”
Shawna Kyak, 18 of Iqaluit is also on the badminton team. She plays soccer and volleyball, too.
“It’s been great meeting new people and trading pins has been fun,” she says. “I love everything about badminton and this is my first Canada Games. I hope there is more.”
Gary Wong, of Team Nunavut, says sport has always been important to Northern people, but the opportunities for sport can be limited because of lack of facilities, distance to travel and people to run programs. “The people love sport,” he says. “Sometimes, all a program needs is someone with a key to open the gym.”