North·AWG 2018

2 snowshoe biathletes hope to bring Ulus back to Ulukhaktok

Students in Ulukhaktok, N.W.T., didn’t even know what snowshoe biathlon was three years ago.

It’s only the 2nd time the hamlet has sent athletes to the Arctic Winter Games

Kyran Alikamik, left, and Jacob Klengenberg are competing in the snowshoe biathlon at the Arctic Winter Games this year. They represent the isolated community of Ulukhaktok, N.W.T., with a population of 400. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

Students from Ulukhaktok, N.W.T., didn't even know what a snowshoe biathlon was three years ago.

Now, for the second Arctic Winter Games (AWG) in a row, two athletes will be representing the hamlet in the sport.

Jacob Klengenberg, 17, will be competing at the junior level, and 14-year-old Kyran Alikamik will be competing at the juvenile level.

Klengenberg said he still remembers when 'Mr. Biathlon,' the late Pat Bobinski who was the president of the N.W.T Biathlon Association, visited the hamlet in 2015.

The isolated hamlet of about 400 people had never sent an athlete to the Games, and Bobinski was hopeful that snowshoe biathlon would be a sport that the kids excelled in.

"He ran a little course I guess and it intrigued me to join," said Klengenberg.

"I was also equally amazed that it was a sport that Ulukhaktok didn't really compete in before."

Jacob Klengenberg competes on Monday in the snowshoe biathlon at the 2018 Arctic Winter Games. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Less than a year later, Klengenberg was one of two athletes from Ulukhaktok competing in the sport at the AWG in Greenland.

Not only was it Klengenberg's first time leaving the country, but he ended up winning a bronze Ulu in the relay event.

Klengenberg has become one of the pioneers of sport in his hometown, and is excited by the growth in a short period of time.

"It's come a long way. We've gained a lot of experience."

About six students of various ages and genders participated in the sport this school year, including Alikamik.

Alikamik will be competing at his first AWG, and said he never heard of the sport before hearing about it from Klengenberg and another friend.

Both young men say it's a natural fit for the region since they grew up hunting and going out on the land.

"I like running mainly but learning how to shoot and run is really different for me and I appreciate it," said Alikamik.

"It's a really fun experience. It teaches you a lot. You have to have the discipline, you have to gain passion."

RCMP constable coaches the pair

One of the people getting the two young athletes ready for the games is RCMP Const. Chris Whynot.

He took over coaching the students this year after their former coach, RCMP officer Duncan Marsh, left the community.

"We learn a lot of discipline from them and they offer a lot," said Alikamik.

Whynot moved to the community this past summer and was approached to take over coaching by the Helen Kalvak Elihakvik School's principal.

Alikamik, left, and Klengenberg, right, were trained by RCMP Cst. Chris Whynot, centre. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

He said that although the sport was "all new to me," he jumped at the opportunity.

"It's kind of a natural fit for the RCMP to be involved. Running, shooting is the kind of things we should be good at, and to impart those skills onto the youth in a sports setting is a great opportunity."

Whynot said they have been practicing about two or three times a week — running outside on the Beaufort Sea and practicing shooting in a school gym. But their training was hindered this past month due to a flu bug that hit the community.

The two AWG snowshoe biathletes from Ulukhaktok training on the Beaufort Sea with their coach in the middle. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

Although he won't be at the Games, Whynot said he's confident that they are going to do well.

"The progression I've seen particularly in these two young gentlemen, has been fantastic in the last few months," Whynot said.

"I'm really proud of them because they are already winners in my mind with all of the effort they have put in at training."

For both young men, they hope to have fun and possibly bring an Ulu back to Ulukhaktok.