North American Indigenous Games

On his own 2 feet: How a Sask. Indigenous track star keeps moving forward

Calvin Napope pursued track to find a sense of belonging and provide motivation for his younger siblings.

Calvin Napope’s relentless search for family and belonging

Calvin Napope will compete at the North American Indigenous Games in Toronto. (Devin Heroux/CBC Sports)

Standing in an open field of uncut grass, Calvin Napope points to the football uprights.

"See those poles over there?" he said. "I used to think of those poles for high jump. I'd visualize jumping over the middle post."

He's never shied away from dreaming big. And Napope will never forget the first time he soared over a high jump bar. It was as if he was flying. He was free.

"I was in Grade 6. It was during a school track meet. I jumped 1.55 metres. I had never high jumped like that before."

Napope was just 10 years old and hadn't really considered himself an athlete until that point.

"I remember people saying just do it again," Napope said.

"I did it and I was thinking wow. This is awesome. My confidence level was high."

His friend was so impressed, he told Napope they were going to train every single day in their small Saskatchewan village.

"We would jog around St. Louis at least two times a day. Then we would go over here and do ab workouts. We thought that was a rookie kind of thing," Napope said laughing.

Since that time, that's what sports have brought Napope; confidence, laughter, friendship and comfort.

Napope is running this week at the North American Indigenous Games in Toronto. He'll compete in 100, 200, 4x100, 4x400, long jump and high jump.

Battling through heartache and adversity

Napope was born prematurely in a Saskatoon hospital. His mom, Crystal moved to Prince Albert when he was young. He was the first child she gave birth to. Napope says he knew she wanted to be a good provider but too many "bad" things got in the way of that.

Crystal would have two more boys, while living in Prince Albert. According to Calvin she kept making bad choices. 

The three boys have been living in a foster home for years now. That's how they ended up in St. Louis.

Calvin Napope lives in a foster home in St. Louis, Saskatchewan. (Devin Heroux/CBC Sports)

In many respects, Calvin has had to be a father figure for his younger brothers. But for as strong as he has to be for everyone else, not having a relationship with his mom somewhat haunts him to this day.

"I think last year I might have seen her four times. I don't know what my mom is trying to do. She's in jail right now. I don't know why she went to jail," Napope said.

He fights back tears as he explains all of the times he would invite her to his sporting events hoping she would come.

"And she'd say I'll make, I'll make. And she wouldn't make it. It hurts me."

Napope even wrote a letter to his mom once, trying to express to her how much he wanted her to be a part of his life.

"I don't really say this to a lot of people but mom I love you so much. I'm glad you're my mother and my birth giver," he wrote.

He wanted to believe she could turn her life around after she had a near death experience with a police officer. High on crystal meth in Jan. 2015, Crystal was face-to-face with an officer screaming for him to shoot her. That officer didn't and for a while after that she was making an effort to turn her life around. But her addiction and poor choices have caught up to her again, says Calvin.

"It hurts. That hurts so much. I don't know what to do with her anymore. I just want to box her out in my life," Napope said.

Search for family

This past school year Napope made the decision to leave his brothers and foster home in St. Louis and attend high school at Carleton in Prince Albert. He says he wanted to try something new and meet new people. But the real motivation was family.

"Of course I feel like I don't belong to a family," he said. "I moved to PA with my uncle. He's my real family. It's like a piece of my family. I thought if I was able to move in there and see an example of family. That never happened. I only saw one family member and that person was doing bad."

For the last four months of high school, Napope was now faced with a new challenge. Essentially living on his own, finding his way to school and being in a place he didn't feel comfortable.

"I went to a really good home to a really bad home. Once you go to a bad home it's like your mindset changes because you don't have the opportunities you did in that good home," Napope said.

He would wake up at 6 a.m. every day to walk more than an hour to school, sometimes working out before class. He tried to get a job but couldn't put together a resume people found attractive enough to hire him. School was going decently but in some cases he felt like an outsider. Napope felt his world was caving in around him.

"I honestly thought of suicide when I was living in PA," he said.

He's now back at the foster home with his brothers, but says it doesn't feel the same as before.

Trying to find the positives in life

That uncut field of grass with football uprights is where Napope trains for track and field. There's a faded out spot for about 80 metres in the grass where he sprints every day. When he looks around at it all, he wishes it were different.

"Since I think of being an entrepreneur, I think what if there was a track right there. I'd like that."

He wants better for his community and for people to have opportunity to compete in sport. This is his happy place for now though.

"Running makes me feel good," he said. "I got to be happy. I have to think of the good things. It'll make you happy."

And that letter he wrote to his mom? He also said this:

"I never told anyone this but one of the reasons why I drive myself in sports is for my family to change and become motivated and a change in their life."

If it can't be for his mom, he's doing it now for his two younger brothers.

Napope will be competing on the same track Andre de Grasse won gold on during the Pan Am Games and has been taking notes in preparation.

"I've been watching a lot of Andre videos of what he does. I'm grateful to run on that same track as him."

Win or lose, Napope hopes his trip to Toronto can inspire his brothers and many more.

"I want to give people hope," He said. "Moving forward. I have to do."


Devin Heroux

CBC reporter

Devin Heroux reports for CBC News and Sports. He is now based in Toronto, after working first for the CBC in Calgary and Saskatoon.