Canada Games: Northern athletes undaunted by their challenges


Athletes from across Canada’s north will be at this month’s Canada Summer Games, including some in sports rarely seen in their home areas.

Nunavut is sending its first beach volleyball team to the amateur multisport festival, which opened Saturday in Ontario’s Niagara region and ends August 21.

“We don’t play beach volleyball very often in Nunavut,” said beach player Talia Grant. “We don’t have the space for that.

“I’m incredibly excited but also quite nervous because this is a new sport for us. I’m excited to see how it goes.”

Nunavut’s beach volleyball team, which usually practices indoors there, traveled to Halifax and Kelowna, BC in the weeks leading up to the Canada Games to get used to playing on the sand in the hot temperatures.

Creative workarounds are not uncommon among Nordic athletes, who are often underdogs at the Summer Games.

Competitors from the three Canadian territories often face challenges that their provincial counterparts do not see, such as: E.g. limited recreational facilities, shorter summers and smaller team numbers.

Despite these hurdles, the members of the Nunavut beach volleyball team are fearless.

“We face many challenges and obstacles, but overcoming them and coming here to play beach volleyball just shows that we play hard,” said team member Ian McDonald.

Team Nunavut, typically the smallest team at the Canada Games, has won a bronze medal since it began competing in 2001.

It came in judo, which is part of the program at the 2007 Winter Games in Whitehorse.

The territory’s 2022 summer team, made up of 58 athletes, coaches, managers, youth ambassadors and mission staff, will also compete in indoor volleyball and wrestling.

Athletes from the other northern territories were also preparing for the Canada Games this month.

Northwest Territories flag-bearer and basketball player Mali Straker hopes her Hoops team can upset a provincial squad.

“We’re just resilient,” she said of NWT athletes. “We work just as hard as other teams, if not more. We fight really hard.”

The 100-strong NWT team includes 68 athletes in basketball, soccer, tennis, swimming, track and field, and indoor and beach volleyball.

“Our athletes are unique,” said their Chef de Mission Rita Mercredi.

“You’re able to look beyond what other people see as challenges and take them as opportunities and make it work for you.”

Mercredi hopes Ontario athletes will have an unforgettable experience as COVID-19 has prevented some from competing for the past two years.

The Niagara Canada Games have been postponed from 2021 to 2022 due to the pandemic.

NWT athletes have won a total of 22 medals at the Winter Games.

Yukon flag bearer and cyclist Mara Roldan, 18, is ready to compete against older, more experienced athletes.

“I don’t put pressure on myself for certain results,” said Roldan.

“I really think it’s just going to be a good learning environment, an overall learning experience.”

Yukon athletes are disadvantaged in summer sports due to the territory’s short season, but Roldan believes they can still compete at a high level.

“There’s no limit to what we can do,” she said.

“I know I’ve done a lot more than I expected over the past year just to push myself with the resources I have here in the Yukon and the help, people and community support.”

Roldan recently won gold at the 2022 Canadian Road Championships in Junior Criterion.

She will also represent Canada at the 2022 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Les Gets, France later this month.

Since Yukon began competing in the Canada Games in 1987, its athletes have won six medals at the Summer Games and 46 at the Winter Games.

Yukon athletes will compete in cycling, basketball, canoeing, kayaking, golf, soccer, swimming, volleyball and wrestling in the Niagara region.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 6, 2022.

This story was produced with financial support from Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.