North

Cambridge Bay teen wrestler wins silver at national competition

With dedication, discipline and help from his coach and teammates, Eekeeluak Avalak has won a silver medal in wrestling at the Canadian wrestling championships.

'[It feels] great, knowing that not a lot of Inuit go to nationals,' says Eekeeluak Avalak

Eekeeluak Avalak competed in the men's under-17, 55-kilogram, freestyle category and won silver at Wrestling Canada Lutte's national championships in Fredericton. (Wrestling Canada Lutte)

With dedication, discipline and help from his coach and teammates, Nunavut's Eekeeluak Avalak has won a silver medal on the national stage.

Avalak came in second for the men's under-17, 55-kilogram, freestyle category at Wrestling Canada Lutte's Canadian championships. Logan Smith who lives near Orillia, Ont., took the national title.

This was Avalak's first time competing with athletes Canada-wide.

"[It feels] great, knowing that not a lot of Inuit go to nationals," said 15-year-old Avalak, who is from Cambridge Bay.

He said his wrestling journey started off a few years ago along with two other friends. They went to the territorials, where Avalak won gold in 2016.

"I stuck with it ever since," he said. "And here I am, silver medalist, at the U-17/U-19 national championships." 

Avalak's teammate, Nanogak Goose, also competed in the nationals for the first time. 

But the national silver medalist says at first, he didn't think wrestling was his path.

"I was like, 'It's not for me,'" Avalak said. "Because I thought I could take shortcuts ... Thought I could just go to practice whenever I want."

Eekeeluak Avalak, left, was a silver medalist at Wrestling Canada Lutte's national championships. Logan Smith from Orillia, Ont., centre, took the national title. (Wrestling Canada Lutte/James West)

Avalak said he changed his mindset, and decided to commit to the sport. He practices three times a week usually, but before tournaments like this one, he says he's on the mat every single day.

He said he fell in love with it because "it's very physical" and because he can travel and meet new people.

"I want to get more kids back home into it," Avalak said. 

The coach for Cambridge Bay's wrestling team, Chris Crooks, has been teaching wrestling for over 40 years. When he came to Cambridge Bay in August 2015 and found no wrestling club, he created one.

"I wanted to give them an opportunity of higher-level competition and what's out there, and in a way, try to inspire them in the future to aim for that," Crooks said.

Crooks said the team is looking toward the 2019 Western Canada Summer Games in Swift Current, Sask., and the next Arctic Winter Games.

This weekend, Avalak is trying out for the next Pan-American Games for wrestling.

Written by Priscilla Hwang, based on an interview by Marc Winkler

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