Northern Stars: Nunatsiavut athletes prepare for the Labrador Winter Games
by Mandy Poole
For athletes in Nunatsiavut, every three years the Labrador Winter Games becomes their olympics. Training starts early. It’s hard work. And it’s a tradition.
The Labrador Winter Games began in 1983 and has grown to become a sporting event, and a family event that every Labradorian wants a ticket to. Communities come together as one and select their finest athletes to represent them in what is also known as the ‘friendship games.’
“We started practicing in October. We’ve started fundraising. We’ve got our team uniforms and all our equipment ready,” said Reggie Maggo, coordinator for team Nain.
Athletes participate in events such as the Northern Games; a set of four difficult and “Labrador-worthy” games. ‘Labrador Hurdles’ is one - traditionally the Inuit used sleds for this game. Strength and endurance are a must for all of these games.
The ‘one foot high kick’ sees athletes run and kick a hanging seal puppet and land on the same foot that touched the puppet. This sport was developed to improve depth perception and train your eyesight for aiming.
There’s also ‘over the rope’ which is a game designed to build strength and help Inuit gain the balance required to operate kayaks with ease.
The fourth of the Northern Games is the ‘seal race’. Athletes get into position to do a pushup but instead cross their feet to form a flipper and pull by hand their body weight to the end of the line. Origins of the seal race go back to when hunters used to mimic a seals movement and sound to get close enough to harvest them.
Participating athletes must fundraise through bake sales, cold-plate sales, and 50-50 draws. A lot of volunteer hours are clocked behind the many events at the Games.
Another piece of the Labrador Games puzzle is the intricate work that goes into designing team uniforms. Team uniforms have become an unspoken and guarded tradition. Some communities purchase high-end winter wear and get logos printed on them. Others, like team Rigolet, start from scratch.
“Tradition plays an important part on deciding the athlete's wear, We have used Labrador colors in the uniforms in the past. Our craft producers have sewn dickies (traditional Labrador overcoats) for us before and so we thought it would be fitting to do this again,” said Carlene Palliser, team coordinator for Rigolet.
“Rigolet is starting to be well known for producing seal skin crafts, therefore, it was thought that incorporating seal skins as part of the uniform would be a nice way to promote this idea,” said Palliser.
For most, the activity at the Labrador Winter Games comes as second nature. In events such as the Labrathon, the necessary athletic skill is something every Labradorian has some experience in; boiling a kettle over an open fire, target shooting, setting a traditional trap, sawing a log, and using a chisel and axe to make a hole in the ice.
For Martin Shiwak of Rigolet, this type of activity is something he says is ‘everyday life.’
“My father taught me how to trap, my grandfather always had me out trapping. Setting traps was just in the norm,” said Shiwak.
“I didn’t learn this on my own. My grandfather, my cousins and my Uncles taught me how to do this,” said Shiwak of his traditional ways.
“.22 shooting is second nature. You gotta knock down five targets. Some days you might hit them, some days you might have a bad day and not hit nothing,” laughed Shiwak.
Martin, like his teammates, takes great pride in his community and their contributions to the game. And like most small towns, it’s a family affair.
“My mother is one of the craft producers, they are making dickies and mitts for us. Mom is a jack-of-all-trades for that stuff,” said Shiwak.
Kelly Edmunds of Nain is competing for the first time this year and is excited about representing Nain and participating in her favorite sport.
“I heard that volleyball games are always very competitive, which is always fun,” said Edmunds.
This is the Labrador Winter Games 30th Anniversary year and director Jon Beale and the Games team are preparing full force for what is sure to be an exciting event.
“We've been organizing the Games since last July, and it's great to see things all coming together...” said Beale, “Big kudos to all our volunteers and organizers for their help. We couldn't do it without them!"
Jon says the whole winter games crew are highly anticipating welcoming over 312 athletes and 22 coordinators to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and to the Winter Games.
"All the Games staff are really excited to have communities from throughout Labrador come together to have some fun and compete for the coveted Labrador Cup,” said Beale.
Visiting family and relatives
Games crew are flying in athletes from remote communities in Labrador. And this year, for the first time, the new Trans Labrador Highway is allowing for athletes and their families and friends to travel in by road!
For travelers, the Trans Labrador Highway means getting to see their family or friends compete in the games. For the athlete, it means louder cheers in the stands.
The fan base is expected to increase dramatically this year due to hard work by the Games committee and volunteers on their social media platforms and informative website.
A special guest, Rick Mercer, along with his television crew from the “Rick Mercer Report” will also be attending part of the games and shooting an episode.
Follow Labrador Winter Games activity on their website, labradorwintergames.ca