Patrick Smiler of Inukjuak, Nunavik-Quebec, raises his hands in victory as he arrives with other Arctic Winter Games athletes at Kenai Municipal Airport on Saturday. A dozen jets from across Canada and Greenland brought competitors, coaches and fans to the central peninsula Saturday.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The only thing more unusual than seeing the succession of massive Boeing 737 airplanes that began landing at Kenai Municipal Airport in the wee hours of Saturday morning, was seeing the ear-to-ear smiles on the faces of the young athletes who stepped off those planes despite how early in the morning they arrived and how long some of their flights had been.
“I’m happy to be here,” said Yana Vrublevskaya, an assistant with the the Chef’s de Mission for Russia’s Team Yamal back for their second year of participation in the Arctic Winter Games.
Some teams came in with 200 people at a time, and Vrublevskaya like many clinging to pillows brought from home was weary from many hours in the air and relieved to finally be on terra firma.
“The trip was very long and tiring. We went (from Yamal) to New York to Seattle to Anchorage to here. It took practically 23 hours,” she said.
After such long flights, Vrublevskaya was ready for some rest, but unfortunately for her, duty called. Some baggage a snowboard for one of the competing athletes was lost en route, and she was doing her best to track it down, which she eventually did.
Vrublevskaya said finding the missing item was part of the task she had come to do.
Janice Ida See helps Team Alaska athletes find their credentials during their check-in Friday night.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
“I’m looking forward to helping my team. That and meeting new friends,” she said.
Dale Bagley, Games host society president, said other than the occasional lost bag, the arrival of teams was going well.
“It’s been going very smooth so far. The few lost bags seem to be the worst of it, and really, considering how many bags and bodies are arriving, we’re doing good,” Bagley said.
He said the arrivals were moving along at a good clip because the procedure was so straight forward for arriving teams.
He explained that after getting off their planes, team members found their luggage, passed through customs, got signed in, received their complimentary sleeping bags and backpacks of goodies, then got on the waiting school buses to be shuttled to their villages.
Numerous friendly faces such as volunteer Pam Marock’s of Soldotna greeted team members throughout this arrival procedure.
“Good morning and good luck,” she said to each passing person.
Marock said she was having fun as a volunteer and that she was excited by the opportunity to take part in the Games.
“It’s very interesting seeing all the different cultures and people. This is a once in a lifetime experience,” she said.
That may have been true for Marock, but it wasn’t the case for several athletes that have participated in the Games in years’ past.
“This is my second time in the Arctic Winter Games,” said Jacqueline Burns, an athlete on Team Northwest Territories.
Burns is a figure skater who placed third in the short program in the 2004 AWG in Wood Buffalo, Canada. She said she hopes to do well again this year.
“I’m hoping to place in the top three,” she said.
Like Burns, Meghan Bowden, another athlete from Team Northwest Territories, attended the AWG in the past and was also hoping to improve her performance this year.
“This is my third time in the Games and I’m hoping this is the year we get the gold,” she said referring to her sport of basketball, in which her team won the bronze in 2004.
Colleen Neely of Team Nunavut also was no newcomer to the AWG, although this year will mark the first time she has participated in them.
“I’m very excited. I’ve been to the Games before as a guest or a volunteer, but this is my first time as an athlete,” she said.
Neely is a member of the soccer team and she said she’s looking forward to getting her game on.
“We have a pretty good soccer team this year and we came to do the best we can,” she said.
This year’s AWG also will be a bit of a family affair for Neely’s clan as her bother, Jonathan, is also here as part of the curling team, her father Tim is a soccer official and her mother Marilyn is part of the international committee.
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