Paulatuk, N.W.T., athletes train by flashlight on path to Arctic Winter Games

They rode out a blizzard and trained by flashlight to get there, but Paulatuk's young athletes made the trip to Arctic Winter Games trials last weekend - and two of them even made the team.

Casay Tai, 17, and Junji Tai, 14, make the N.W.T.'s Arctic Winter Games badminton team

Paulatuk youth, including Misty Ruben, left, Misty Wolki-Ruben and Chase Wolki, trekked to Yellowknife late last week for Arctic Winter Games badminton trials. A blizzard in the community just before the trip didn't faze the athletes. They just trained by flashlight. (Joanne Stassen/CBC)

A blizzard that hit Paulatuk, N.W.T., last week knocked out power and blew roofs off houses, but it wasn't strong enough to keep the community's young badminton players from training for the Arctic Winter Games trials — even if they had to do it by flashlight.

Jennifer Giffin is a teacher in Paulatuk and the community's badminton coach. She will also be Team NWT's girls badminton coach at the Arctic Winter Games next month.

The team found refuge in the school's darkened gym during the storm, she said. While they were hunkered down, they took some time to hone their badminton skills.

"We trained for a little bit in the dark in the gym," said Giffin.

"The language teacher called and said, 'I think we better bunk in the gym so the kids can train just in case we get stuck home.'"

After the storm cleared, it was time to go to the airport.

Paulatuk teacher and badminton coach Jennifer Giffin said her students' trip to Yellowknife for the Arctic Winter Games trials last weekend marked the first time some of them had left the community. (Hilary Bird/CBC)

"Oh it was amazing," said Giffin, describing an emotional scene where parents tearfully sent their children off to last week's Arctic Winter Games trials in Yellowknife — some of them leaving the community of 265 people for the first time ever.

"We had a picture with the parents and it was dark — we have 24-hour darkness," she added. "And to see the small plane — the very small plane — come in, in the darkness, and know that we were gonna get on that, it was great."

Making the cut

The hard work paid off. Brothers Junji and Casey Tai both made the cut, with 17-year-old Casey making the junior boys team and Junji, 14, heading to the juvenile boys team.

The team was announced Sunday.

Casey has been playing for seven years and this will be his second Arctic Winter Games.

"Travelling to a different place and playing badminton with new people," he said, describing what he likes about the opportunity to play the sport in competitions.

Last week was the second time he's tried out for the Arctic Winter Games. He didn't make the team the first time.

Junji said he has a killer drop shot, which is where the shuttle is hit downwards from the rear of the court so it lands in the opponent's forecourt area.

Nine sport trials

The Arctic Winter Games hosted trials for nine sports across the territory this weekend. Yellowknife hosted trials for badminton, wrestling and speed skating, Inuvik hosted trials for snowshoeing and arctic sports and Fort Smith hosted trials for dog mushing, snow boarding, table tennis and Dene games.

Watching experienced players take on newcomers at this level of competition is thrilling, said Peter Daniels, an organizer and official for the Dene games. 

"It's always exciting to see the newcomers coming in because you never know what they're going to bring," he said.

The Arctic Winter Games runs from March 18 to 24 in Fort Smith and Hay River, N.W. T.