Got game?: Native Youth Olympics spotlights talent, teamwork

Posted: Monday, February 01, 2010

A bodybuilder somewhere is pumping iron, hoping to get arms as chiseled as 16-year-old Justin Pea's.

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Photos By M. Scott Moon
Photos By M. Scott Moon
Simone Pushruk, of Chickaloon, keeps her eye on the bag as she competes in the two-foot high kick event Saturday afternoon during the Peninsula Winter Games Native Youth Olympics at Kenai Middle School.

While you won't find the Kalifornsky Beach youth in a competition of aesthetics, but you might very well find him hanging onto a wooden dowel using his wrist as two teammates run laps around the Kenai Middle School gymnasium to the delight of a cheering crowd.

Pea is a member of the Kenai Peninsula Native Youth Olympics team, one of 12 from across the state that attended this year's Peninsula Winter Games Native Youth Olympics.

Pea placed first in the senior boy's wrist carry on Sunday morning.

It's a brutal event, and one of the few, he said, that requires strong teamwork skills.

With his hand balled into a tight fist, he hooked his wrist over the dowel and braced his arm.

Pea explained that to hang on requires his core and arms as well as a tolerance for pain. There's no padding between the athlete's skin and the abrasive wood. As a result, Pea has developed a callus and a bruise on his wrist.

If one of his two teammates holding either end of the dowel falter, stumble or otherwise do something to jolt or drop Pea as they run laps around the gym, it may all be a loss.

The event is so tough Pea said he can't practice it much or he could hurt himself.

He and his team have plenty of other activities on which they can work. The KPNYO practices three times a week starting in September under the direction of longtime coach Amber Glenzel.

Glenzel, 41, said she's watched interest grow in the Native Youth Olympics in the decade she's been organizing it.

The 2008 Arctic Winter Games held on the peninsula helped to act as a springboard for enthusiasm, she said.

"Over the years, it's just become so huge," she said. "I think it's the knowledge that people are gaining from it and the communities becoming aware of Native games and what they do for these kids."

Glenzel said she starts practices near the beginning of the school year so kids have an activity to go to.

"It's my own way of making sure my own kids stay out of trouble," she said, "It gives these kids something to do besides high school or junior high sports."

She credited the strong emphasis placed on sportsmanship as a part of what keeps the athlete driven toward success.

"Of the 10 or 11 years I've been coaching, I can honestly say that none of my previous athletes or current athletes have ever been in trouble with the law," she said.

That's a trend that's she's seen in other programs as well, she said.

Despite the name, athletes don't have to be Native to participate.

"You don't create that division between peoples and cultures," Glenzel said.

While some activities, like the wrist carry, do require teamwork, most activities in the NYO pit the athletes against themselves to achieve their own personal bests.

"A lot of kids that excel in Native games don't necessarily blend real well with the other sports," she said.

They NYO also offers a close-knit community. Pea and Glenzel said the most prestigious award an individual or team can get is the sportsmanship award, something the KPNYO was honored with on Sunday.

"It's like a big family for us, we come together only a couple times of the year, but it's like we haven't been apart," Glenzel said. "The kids just really connect in these games and strike up a friendship."

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