Team NWT ready to compete

Athletes eager for 2012 Arctic Winter Games
AWG airport

Fort Smith athletes, from left,
Veronica McDonald, 17, Dezmond McDonald, 18,
and Taylor Phillips, 18, wait patiently
at the Yellowknife Airport for their charter flight
on March 3.

By land and air, 400 strong, Team NWT made its journey to Whitehorse on Saturday for the 22nd installment of the Arctic Winter Games. 

At the Yellowknife Airport, Rita Bertolini, a sport consultant with the Sport North Federation, staffed a small podium; she and a small group of marshallers were happily greeting waves of athletes armed with duffel bags, biathlon rifles, snowshoes and pillows, ushering them to one of two charters ferrying the team to the Yukon capital.

"By the end of the day, it is kind of organized chaos and everyone gets to where they have to go,” she said.

She has served in this capacity for 12 years and despite both her aircraft delayed by an hour on Saturday, she seemed unfazed.

“Delays are all part of the course, It could be a cancellation, which would be a huge deal, so we're fortunate it's just a delay, and only an hour,” she said.

After more than a decade of helping Team NWT get to where it needs to be, Bertolini said she likes to think she has it down to a science, but admits there's always “little things that creep up” every year.

“Four hundred kids travelling, about 300 out of Yellowknife and a little under 100 out of Inuvik, so that's a big crew and they are very excited and very eager to get to Whitehorse,” Bertolini said.

The late departure wasn't dampening spirits in the airport as athletes mingled with teammates and members of Team Nunavut who were passing through; though, the occasional groan could be heard when another flight number which was not the Sport North charter echoed from the overhead speakers. Of the NWT's 33 communities, 21 – six fewer than the 2010 games in Grande Prairie – are represented at the 2012 games.

As in past years, participants range from seasoned veterans to first timers. Joey Moses of Wrigley is attending his first games participating in Dene Games. Travelling with his father, Lloyd, Moses said he is looking forward to the games and was eager to jump into the fray with his handgames team.

Like most participants, he is hopeful of his team's chances at success, but he is more eager to meet other athletes from around the circumpolar world. Team NWT will compete against contingents from Alberta, Alaska, Russia, Greenland, Nunavut, Sapmi and the Yukon.

As Moses prepares to experience his first Arctic Winter Games, Fort Smith's Veronica McDonald is gearing up for her fifth games. She began competing in Arctic Sports when she was nine years old at the 2004 Arctic Winter Games in Fort McMurray, Alta. Eight years later, she is one of the team's most prolific and consistent athletes.

In 2010, she medalled in five of her seven events and her goal is to place in each one this year. McDonald is also aiming to break a few records. Last games she was an inch shy of record in her favourite event, the kneel-jump. McDonald says she loves the opportunity to compete and said there is always something to look forward to every two years.

“The different jackets, the different teams, new faces, old faces,” they are all what makes each games special she said. While some competitors return year after year competing in the sports they have come to love, others are trying their hand (or feet, skis or snowshoes) at a different event.

Yellowknife's Megan Clelland, 17, made the jump this games to volleyball, she played for NWT's juvenile girls soccer team in 2010, winning bronze. She said her team has high expectations for 2012 and are aiming for a medal. “We have a good team this year and we work well together,” she said.

Medals aside, Clelland and her teammates are looking forward to meeting rival Yukon on their own turf.

“We beat them at Westerns and we want to beat them again,” said Clelland.

 The Arctic Winter Games kicked off on Sunday with the opening ceremonies, hockey and indoor soccer. The first full schedule of competition was today.