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'We've all grown up together': Grade 12 athletes savour their final N.W.T. track meet

The Northwest Territories annual track and field championships feels like a family barbecue. For these Grade 12 athletes, the three-day event is the last time they’ll compete with their friends before they graduate later this spring.

Graduating athletes out to have fun and enjoy competing with each other one last time

Krisal Gambler, left, and Kezia McDonald are running their final track meet together before they graduate later this spring from Paul W. Kaeser High School in Fort Smith, N.W.T. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Kristal Gambler and Kezia McDonald sway their arms side to side, skipping along to the rhythm of the music in their headphones. They're warming up for the javelin toss, their first event at the Northwest Territories Track and Field Championships.

They're warming up together like they have for years. They joke around as they stretch and get ready to compete.

But this year, it's different. It's the last time they'll run track and field together.

Gambler and McDonald are in Grade 12 at Paul W. Kaeser (PWK) high school in Fort Smith, N.W.T. Most of their friends decided not to come to this week's track championships — they're busy getting ready for graduation — but these two say they couldn't miss it.

"There's a lot of mixed emotions," Gambler said. "It's really, really exciting, but it's also sad, to think about it, that we're never going to do this again.

"We've all grown up together, but it'll be good. I'm glad that I came and had fun."

Gambler is a long distance runner. Her specialty is the 3,000-metre run, a gruelling seven-and-a-half laps around the track. This week, she's getting in as many events as she can, including javelin.

"We're having a good time, just trying our best," she said. "[Javelin] is fun, it's kind of easy, it's just something I've always done."

It's really, really exciting, but it's also sad, to think about it, that we're never going to do this again.- Kristal Gamble, Grade 12, PWK high school 

She's also one of three women competing in the 400-metre race. It's the first time she's competed at that distance since grade school. She's not worried about how she'll place since she's guaranteed a medal.  

"I just thought I'd give it a try because it's my last year and I feel that I could do good in it," she said.

Kezia McDonald throws the javelin at the N.W.T. Track and Field Championships Wednesday. She's represented the territory at national competitions, but this week is focused on spending time with her friends. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

McDonald is a thrower and she's represented Team N.W.T. at the North American Indigenous Games. Shot put and discus are her main events, and she's hoping to break a record or two this week.

But she's having a bit of extra fun too, running with Gambler in the 400-metre and running the 100-metre race, even though it's not a strong event for her.

"I'm not really a runner, I've always been a thrower, so it's kind of a different year for me," she said.  "It's not only our last year, but it's our last sports trip before we're done school. We thought we'd give it our all and have a good time."

Both Gambler and McDonald plan on attending post-secondary school after graduation. Gambler is heading to Alberta in the fall, while McDonald plans on working for a year before moving to Ottawa to continue her studies.

Zach Horton, right, shares a moment with his competitor Stephen Messier at the javelin event at the N.W.T. Track and Field Championships. Horton says he's made some great friends playing sports in school. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

Track and field meets are unique because of the opportunities for friendships to form, especially between athletes competing from different schools.

Most events take less than 30 minutes — sprints are over in about 15 seconds — so there's a lot of time for athletes to hang around and meet people from across the Northwest Territories.

More than 1,000 athletes, from grade school students right up to adults in the masters' division, are running, throwing and jumping in Hay River this year. Wandering through the stands and the grounds feels like being at a big family barbecue.

Zach Horton threw his final javelin for Hay River's Diamond Jenness Secondary School Wednesday, after competing in the event for years. Hockey and golf are his main sports, but he loves coming to track.

"It's nice to see these great athletes that I've competed against in so many different sports," he said. "There's so many great athletes I find myself with at the top all the time."

"It's always a good time, I've played on territorial teams with lots of these guys, it's nice seeing my friends again and being able to compete against them," he said. "It's pretty special."  

The meet wraps up on Friday. Until then, athletes like Gamble, McDonald and Horton will go through their warmups and run their races. Giving it one last shot.

Runners in the 5,000-metre race circle the track at the N.W.T. Track and Field Championships in Hay River, N.W.T., Wednesday. (Alex Brockman/CBC)
 

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