Lakehead University athletes share passion for sport with First Nations kids
Hockey, basketball, volleyball, wrestling, cross-country ski, and track & field team members host clinics
Lakehead University and Wasaya Airways are teaming up for a program that brings student athletes to remote First Nations communities.
"They experience the warmth and the welcome of the communities. They talk to the children," he said.
"So when they came back, they came and told us that this was a great experience for them, even though they went up to try to talk about Lakehead and about athletic issues."
Another goal of the program is to encourage young people to continue their studies at Lakehead University, Stevenson said.
'Opportunity for hope'
The president and CEO of Wasaya Airways said the program is a great opportunity for the young people in First Nations communities.
"It also provides them with some opportunity for hope, and something that they can achieve and work towards. Excellence in a certain sport, of which Lakehead University offers a tremendous variety."
Natasha Frank, a third year nursing student at Lakehead, and a member of track and cross-country running teams, participated in the "Reach Up!" program.
"This program is very important in engaging young people to participate in organized sports," she said.
She told CBC News she didn't get much exposure to organized sport until she was about 12, when she moved from her First Nation to Thunder Bay.
"If I wasn't engaged at that time by an LU athlete, coincidentally in Thunder Bay, telling me I was good at doing push-ups, I probably wouldn't have pursued sport," Frank said.
"So imagine what it's like for children in northern communities, and an athlete comes to them and says 'Hey, you're really fast. Hey, you're really good at this. Hey, you're really good at wrestling.' That has a huge impact on them, for their future and to spark that fire in them to go after their dreams."
The program is a very valuable experience for the student athlete, Frank continued.
"A lot of the people I talk to after, they are so surprised that we're so close to communities that are so secluded and have very little. That's just mind boggling for a lot of people, especially if you're from southern Ontario and there's towns everywhere and it's no big problem to get groceries."
Providing these budding athletes with opportunity is key, Rodyniuk added.
"So for our young people in the communities, it provides them an opportunity to participate, get active and, at the same time, who knows, we could have another [NHL player like] Jordin Tootoo come from one of our communities," he said.
The program will visit four communities this year. Nibinamik First Nation has already confirmed its participation.