From coast to coast to coast

Badminton team includes members from three corners of Canada

Juvenile boys' badminton player Jayko Akeeagok, 15, is the only athlete representing Grise Fiord at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games

With athletes coming to the far northwest of Canada from the Grise Fiord, Canada's northernmost settlement, and from Antigonish, NS, and a coach from Vancouver, Nunavut's badminton team is a tri-coastal effort.

"My teacher asked me if I wanted to go to Iqaluit for a tournament, so I said, yeah, why not," said Grise Fiord's Jayko Akeeagok, who turns 16 on Saturday, who first picked up a racquet ahead of that November tournament. "I won gold, and ended up here."

Akeeagok and his mom Neevee Kakkee made the trip to Whitehorse, which cost Kakkee $5,000 for her own flight. Fundraising to also bring dad Amon Akeeagok fell short, so his half, $650, was put toward the Iqaluit Whiterow fire relief.

"Jayko is a great athlete," said coach Calvin Holoboff of Vancouver, who has trained Olympic athletes. "He's strong, fast and quick. He's from a community of 110, and has four or five people to play with. It shows you that no matter what community you come from, if you're a good athlete and work hard, there's no reason you can't succeed."

"It's awesome meeting people from all over Nunavut," said teammate Brittany Masson, 17, of Iqaluit, whose doubles partner is Qikiqtarjuaq's only athlete at the Games, Jenny Mosesie.

"This is our best tournament yet," Masson said. "We're playing very well. We've won a few games and we're going to head off to the semi-finals tomorrow."

Louis Lebel-Wong, 18, made the trip from Antigonish, for his final Arctic Winter Games. The St. Francis Xavier student is from Iqaluit, and has silver and bronze uluit from the previous two Games.

"Hoping for some gold this time," Lebel-Wong said, noting the team has been doing "surprisingly well. "This is the first time personally I've ever competed this well. And Team Nunavut, this is the best I've ever seen them compete, especially against Greenland, because they always dominate the competition at these games. We're going toe-to-toe in a lot of matches."

While Lebel-Wong may be surprised, Holoboff is not.

"I'm not surprised," said the coach, who first started working with the team about five years ago and writes reports after clinics and tournaments for coaches at home to help athletes make progress.

"This has been a four or five year project," he said. "The juvenile level is very new. We have two 11-year-olds and two guys who are new to the sport. They've learned so much here.

"But the level of the juniors is quite high. We're likely going to win five or six medals here. It's all come together."