North American Indigenous Games

'He's a different runner': Ahtahkakoop sprinter hoping to repeat double gold at Indigenous Games

For Landon Sasakamoose, a sprinter from the Ahtahkakoop First Nation, his goal is not just to win races — but also to prove he is the best.

Landon Sasakamoose won gold in both 200 and 300-metre sprints at 2014 North American Indigenous Games

Landon Sasakamoose considers the 200- and 300-metre sprints his bread and butter, winning gold in both at the North American Indigenous Games in 2014. (Submitted)

Back in October 2010, during a four-kilometre race, 11-year-old Landon Sasakamoose was competing against — and beating — runners two and three years older than him at a meet on the Pelican Lake First Nation.

The sprinter from the Ahtahkakoop First Nation, approximately 80 kilometres northwest of Prince Albert, Sask., was about two kilometres into the race and was nearly alone in the lead — except for the company of an eagle following him from above.

"I was getting scared, because what if this eagle picks me up? That's what I was thinking," Sasakamoose recalled, noting there were bear and cougar sightings in the area the day before.

When he crossed the finish line, he noticed the eagle still circling up above. Excited, Sasakamoose received his gold medal and took it back home to his father.

"My dad said, 'That was the Creator looking after you, to make sure nothing happened to you,'" he said. 

Sasakamoose says he will run with an eagle feather, a symbol of strength and protection and a gift from his father, on his right arm for the rest of his athletic career. (Submitted)

Since then, Sasakamoose — the grandson of Fred Sasakamoose, the first Indigenous player in the NHL — has become a track and field star, taking home gold medals in both the 200- and 300-metre sprints at 2014 North American Indigenous Games.

He'll return to those games this year — running from July 16-23 in Toronto — as part of Team Saskatchewan. Sasakamoose will run in the 100-, 200- and 400-metre events, as well as the 4x100-metre relay and 4x400-metre relay.

And he said he expects to come home with some gold again this year.

Eagle feather

As he has for the last several years, he'll be running at NAIG with an eagle feather on his arm — something that goes back to that eagle he saw while running in October of 2010.

Before Sasakamoose left to compete in the 2011 Saskatchewan First Nations Summer Games, his father, Elgin "Chuck" Sasakamoose, presented him with an eagle feather to wear as he ran.

"He said, 'This represents strength and protection. The eagle you seen running a couple months ago with you — that was for protection,'" Landon recalls his father saying. 

That eagle feather is something Sasakamoose still wears on his right arm when he runs, and he plans to wear it for the remainder of his track and field career. 

He says his parents, Chuck and Verna, raised him and his siblings to be strong individuals emotionally, physically, spiritually and culturally.

Last race

Sasakamoose said his father was also his best friend, and that the strength imbued in him by his parents allowed him to deal with his father's death in March 2016.

Now 18 years old, Sasakamoose said he and his 22-year-old brother haven't touched alcohol or drugs.

"Our parents raised us to be clean, to respect our mind, body and spirit.... I'll always be thankful for the way my parents raised me and my three brothers," Sasakamoose said.

"That's what helps me to overcome challenges."

Sasakamoose and his father initiated a 2015 fundraiser which sees runners make an 87-kilometre trek from Ahtahkakoop to Prince Albert. (Submitted)

The last race Chuck Sasakamoose ever saw Landon run was at the Regina Indoor Games in February of 2016 — and it was another gold-medal win for Landon.

"He witnessed me win the gold medal which is something I'll always be thankful for."

Work ethic and determination

Salah Hussein, who coached Landon Sasakamoose for about four years on the Prince Albert Aces track and field team, has noticed the way the runner excels not just physically, but mentally.

"He's just like a gazelle — just a very beautiful runner," Hussein said. 

Describing Sasakamoose as a natural sprinter, Hussein said it is work ethic which drives Sasakamoose to succeed. He said Sasakamoose would make practice three times a week, even though that meant a 90-minute drive each way.

"I don't even need to push him," Hussein said. "He does not need a motivation any more. When he comes to practice, he comes to practice to do work."

He said he recognized Sasakamoose's potential early on.

"He's a different runner. ... He's always planning, always looking, always trying to improve," the coach continued. 

"It made me, as a coach, change the way I coach, especially with him because he is just a little bit different than other athletes."