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Cambridge Bay wrestler wins 1st ever medal — gold — for Nunavut at Canada Summer Games

Cambridge Bay wrestler Eekeeluak Avalak, 18, rose to the top at the Canada Summer Games underway in Niagara Falls, Ont. He won his final on Thursday afternoon by a wide margin. "We are so proud of him," his mother said.

'I'm just so happy,' says Eekeeluak Avalak, 18, after gold medal match

A wrestler with his arms wrapped around his opponent's waist as a large crowd of onlookers watches from the stands.
Eekeeluak Avalak, right, wins his finals match on Thursday afternoon. (Thorsten Gohl/Canada Games ex. Niagara)

Cambridge Bay wrestler Eekeeluak Avalak circled the mat flying his Nunavut flag after becoming the first Nunavut athlete ever to win a medal — a gold — at the Canada Summer Games.

"I'm just so happy," he told reporters in a scrum immediately after the win.

Avalak dedicated his fight to his late brother, Joanasie, whose birthday was five days ago. 

"I know you're watching over me and I love you brother," he said.

Eekeeluak Avalak on winning Nunavut's 1st ever gold at the Canada Summer Games

2 months ago
Duration 2:40
Cambridge Bay wrestler Eekeeluak Avalak, 18, became the first Nunavut athlete to win a medal — gold — at the Canada Summer Games underway in Niagara Falls, Ont. Here he gives an interview shortly after his gold medal match.

Avalak, 18, was widely expected to win a medal during the Games underway in Niagara Falls. He won his semifinal match Thursday morning by pinfall.

He went up against Alberta's Fred Calingay Thursday afternoon, ending the match on points, 10-1. 

Avalak is now the second Nunavut athlete to win a medal at the Canada Games. The first was Eugene Dedrick, who won bronze in judo at the Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse in 2007. 

After winning his match, Avalak ran over to hug his coach, Chris Crooks, who brought 40 years of wrestling experience to the western Nunavut community of about 1,700 when he moved there in 2015.

A young man in a gold leotard weeps and wraps his arms around a smiling, middle-aged man in a red jersey and matching ballcap, who holds the younger man close to his chest.
Avalak hugs his coach, Chris Crooks, after his gold medal match. (James Ruddy/Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games)

Avalak said he couldn't have won without Crooks and his teammates. 

'We are so proud of him'

Avalak's mother, Wendy Kootoo-Wood, has been streaming her son's matches online from her home in B.C. as he competes for Team Nunavut. 

"We are so proud of him. It just chokes me up and knowing he's going to make history for Nunavut at the Canada Summer Games here. I'm just so proud of his accomplishments," said Kootoo-Wood.

Eekeeluak Avalak, left, with his family in a submitted photo. Avalak's family were cheering him on from afar as he competed at the Canada Summer Games. (Submitted by Wendy Kootoo-Wood)

Kootoo-Wood said seeing her son at this level of competition has her smiling from ear to ear. 

"I know his late brother's watching over him and cheering him on. I mean, this is all about his late brother [who] he dedicated these games to."

"It's been a pleasure to watch. Even though it's just on live stream, I mean, it made me choke up. My heart's been racing and I'm just so proud of his accomplishments," his mother said. 

Kootoo-Ward said her son has travelled before with wrestling and is a "hundred per cent dedicated" and a "natural at it."

"Wrestling saved his life," said Kootoo-Wood.

A woman and two men stand side by side, smiling for the camera, their arms around each other's shoulders. The woman his holding a framed photograph of a young man.
Violet Avalak, Johnny Avalak and Eekeeluak Avalak with a photo of Eekeeluak's late brother, Joanasie. (Wendy Kootoo-Wood)

"He was going the wrong path, and he found his passion and wrestling saved him. I'm so grateful for his teammates and his coaches' dedication to him and the support they have for him."

Kootoo-Wood said her son wants to become a UFC fighter, or to open up his own gym to help any youth who are troubled and want to change their lives around.

"He wants to give back," she said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Avery Zingel

Reporter

Avery Zingel is a reporter with CBC North in Yellowknife. She is a graduate of the Carleton University School of Journalism and Political Science. Email her at avery.zingel@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter @averyzingel.

With files from Mark Hadlari

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