Years later, Cambridge Bay residents still celebrating the coaches who changed their lives
Terry Aknavigak and Daisy Eyegetok coached basketball for 20 years
When storms raged during basketball practice in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, Daisy Eyegetok always knew she couldn't take the day off.
Sure enough, one or two students would ring her up, rain or snow: "Is there going to be practice?"
"And then there's three or four, and it's like, I'd better get dressed. I'd better go. And that was enough," said Daisy, who along with Terry Aknavigak coached basketball in the community of about 1,760 people for 20 years.
The couple stepped back from coaching several years ago, but former athletes say they helped change and save lives by giving students a place to go, making them feel like they belonged and showing them a wider world outside the hamlet.
Daisy began coaching a year before Terry, but she credits Terry's passion for the sport as one of the main drivers behind their decades of coaching. Terry, who played basketball himself in high school, turned to coaching after he became too old to play on that level.
"I was pretty young at the time, so each year I learned with Daisy and also with the boys," he said.
'We didn't just show up'
Jana Angulalik was 12 when she joined the girls' basketball team Daisy coached. Before she turned 13, they'd already gone on a basketball trip, and the gravity with which Daisy approached practices and fundraising struck Angulalik.
"We didn't just show up and do light practices — we made every moment count, on and off the court, which really was the first time that I remember making goals, setting goals, fundraising, having future things to look forward to," Angulalik said.
"[They] in so many ways helped mould, to this day, who I am and how I show up in the world."
Daisy said she and Terry knew there was a need in the community for coaches, but they didn't really stop to think about the lifelong impact they would have on their students' lives. It wasn't until years later, when she was talking with one of her former athletes, that she realized what their coaching meant to the students.
"She mentioned, being young, your life is really small — you just think small. And Cambridge Bay, at that time in their lives, at that age, was everything," she said.
A.J. Aknavigak said being on the basketball team helped him open up and be more confident. For him, his small corner of the world expanded on a basketball-related trip to Europe in 2006.
"After that trip, I was like, 'OK, there's a whole world of possibilities out there — we're not just limited to Nunavut, we're not just limited to Cambridge Bay,'" he said.
A safe place
Angulalik said Daisy and Terry's commitment to coaching gave her a place to go when she needed it the most.
"Little Jana, who didn't know anything yet, who thought she knew everything, was taken care of and loved, and had community and a family and a place in the community," she said.
"To have just one or a few role models, it saves lives. I have no doubt that without them opening up the gym as much as they did — countless hours — I don't know if I would even still be here, you know? I can't even fathom what my life would be like without basketball, without Terry and Daisy putting in all those hours."
Terry said when they decided it was time to stop coaching, he asked one of his former athletes, Gavin Greenley, whether he'd be interested in taking over.
Greenley didn't hesitate, he said, and recently took the team to territorials. Now, he's an assistant coach at the Arctic Winter Games currently happening in Wood Buffalo, Alta.
"For him to take over and bond with the new guys that he's been coaching ... I'm pretty proud of him," Terry said.
Both of them have similar advice for new coaches: you're going to make mistakes, but coaching is a journey. They both recall growing with their athletes and becoming better coaches as time went on.
"Just make memories, bond with the kids, just be there for them," Terry said.
Daisy said she likes to think the journey isn't over for the two former coaches yet — they're just on hiatus.
"I know I've still been approached. Honestly, the people who have stepped up are amazing," she said.
"In Cambridge Bay, the amount of support we received and still receive just kind of helps reassure other teams in the community to know that there is love here, and there is enough support that we can do this."
With files from Lawrence Nayally and Mark Hadlari