Aklavik, N.W.T., students get visit from skilled cross-country skiers

Cross-country skiers who participated in the formative Territorial Experimental Ski Training (TEST) program launched in Inuvik in the late 1960s are in Aklavik this weekend to tout the benefits of the sport to youth.

Trio, including competitive Olympic skiier Sharon Firth, tout benefits of hard-driving sport

Students in Aklavik take part in cross-country skiing training at hands of several people who took part in an experimental ski training program in the late 1960s. (CBC)

Cross-country skiers who participated in the formative Territorial Experimental Ski Training (TEST) program launched in in Inuvik in the late 1960s are in Aklavik this weekend to tout the benefits of the sport to youth.

Harold Cook, his brother David and competitive Olympic skier Sharon Firth are all original members of the TEST program, in which aboriginal students who attended residential school in Inuvik were taught and competed in cross country skiing.

The trio addressed students at Moose Kerr school Friday and are participating in events in the community this weekend, including training and a feast at the community's recreation centre Saturday at 6 p.m.

"I encourage you. You people are young and you have much more opportunities open to you ... and if you can use sports to get you there, go for it," Cook told the auditorium of students, who serenaded the Cooks and Firth with the school song, which quotes the town motto "Never say die."

"Always try to maintain that positive attitude. That's something you're going to have to learn how to do. You know, you're not going to be positive all the time," Firth said.

Taking his aggression out on the skis 

Cook told the CBC that cross-country skiing helped him healthily channel the aggression stemming from the abuse he suffered at a residential school. 

"I imagined the abuser being the one ahead of me and I took all of my aggression out on the skis. The ski coach at the time told me, 'You sure know how to hate.'"

All the speakers conceded that sticking with skiing or any sport is tough, especially when they had to wake up early to go train, but that such perseverance ultimately has its rewards. 

Cook said the sport took the siblings far beyond their community of Fort Good Hope on several trips to ski nations like Norway and Sweden.

"From there we started meeting the big names, the Gretzskies of cross-country skiing," he said.

Cook thinks TEST should start up again. 

"I wish the ski program would come back to encourage our leaders to really consider the ski program as a good alternative to alcohol and drug abuse."