North

Decorated athlete launches Arctic sports club in Yellowknife

‘Some people might be good at [Arctic sports] and they just don’t know it,’ says Veronica McDonald, the founder of Yellowknife's newest sports club.

‘Some people might be good at [Arctic sports] and they just don’t know it,’ says McDonald

Veronica McDonald at the 2018 Arctic Winter Games in Fort Smith. McDonald said the experience of practicing alone gave her the idea of starting a club to teach people Arctic sports. (Mitch Wiles/CBC)

Veronica McDonald is one of the North's most decorated athletes. But she didn't get there alone.

That's why she started Yellowknife's newest club, dedicated to learning and practising Arctic sports.

"It's challenging," McDonald told the host of CBC's Trail's End. "But hopefully with this introduction, I can teach people that it is something everybody can do."

Arctic sports include games like the high kick, snow snake, and ear pull — traditional tests of skill and endurance which can be practiced and played with "the most minimal amount of equipment," McDonald said.

At the Arctic Winter Games, they're played alongside track and field events, like triple jump, and other sports.

Support network crucial

McDonald, originally from Fort Smith, has been competing in those games since she was nine years old.

"I watched my mom in the 2000 Arctic Winter Games ... and everybody cheered for her and that immediately got my attention," she said. "I was like, 'I want to be like my mom.'"

Her grandfather, who also coached her mother, helped her train — and soon, she was breaking records.

In 2014, she broke the world record for junior women's kneel jump. She followed that up by breaking the record for triple jump at the 2018 Arctic Winter Games, and taking home four gold medals at the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics.

Arctic sports include traditional games like the two foot high kick, pictured here at the 2016 Arctic Winter Games. (AWG 2016)

McDonald says her success was partly down to her support network.

"I was very lucky like that," she said. "I always had a coach, I always had someone who wanted to practice with me."

This year, though, she started practising by herself — an experience she said "felt wrong."

"I felt almost selfish," she said, "because I grew up doing this, and so … I know where to improve."

McDonald had the idea to form a club so she could practice with people new to the sports, sharing the history of the sports and her love for the games.

"A lot of people don't get the opportunity to try it out," she said. "Some people might be good at it and they just don't know it."

"In the meantime, I'm still practising," she said.

Fun, accessible, and supportive

McDonald said the spirit of the club is like the spirit of the games — fun, accessible, and supportive.

"It's not something where you want to beat somebody," she said. "You want to help that person achieve their next goal just as much as you want to."

"It just gives you such a great outlook on sportsmanship," she said.

The club had its first meeting Sunday night at N.J. Macpherson School in Yellowknife. McDonald said she hopes it becomes a regular thing.

"If you're too scared to come, I'm a great encourager," she said. "I'd be happy to help you out at any point."

Based on an interview produced by Rachel Zelniker and conducted by Lawrence Nayally

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