After three years of planning, fundraising, stress and excitement, the Arctic Winter Games kick off tonight.
It’s been a monumental undertaking raising about $5 million, recruiting and training 2,700 volunteers, upgrading several facilities, building a brand-new ice rink in Homer and all the other work that’s gone into preparing for hundreds of athletes from nine nations and the throng of people who have come to watch, coach and cheer them on.
It’s time for the hard work to pay off.
The Games were founded as a way for young athletes to interact with peers who share similar climates yet different cultures and histories. This is a unique opportunity for participants to experience such a horizon-expanding experience.
A benefit of the Kenai Peninsula hosting the event is its residents can get in on the fun, too.
For sports fans, competitions range from alpine skiing and snowboarding in Girdwood to curling in Homer. Kenai hosts the Dene and Inuit games, badminton, wrestling, gymnastics, hockey and speedskating. Soldotna has basketball, ski biathlon, snowshoe biathlon, cross-country skiing, dog mushing, figure skating, indoor soccer, snowshoeing, table tennis and volleyball.
The Games encompass two components sports and cultural events. On the cultural side, events take place in Seward, Homer and the central peninsula. They include film festivals, a circumpolar art exhibition at the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center and offerings by local theater groups.
After the effort it’s taken to get us to the opening ceremonies, the community is due a chance to enjoy the week’s activities.
It’s been a long road, and not always a smooth one. The host society has been plagued by a shortfall of money, a changing parade of faces in leadership positions, worry over weather conditions, flagging community enthusiasm and various other organizational road bumps but here we are.
Granted, not everyone on the peninsula is enthused to be hosting this event, especially due to the amount of money it’s taken to get to this point and the fact that $500,000 of it had to be scraped together at the last minute.
Finger pointing may be inevitable when the final bill comes in, but our hope is critics keep their fingers to themselves this week in deference to our visitors. They’ve worked hard to be here, as well, and deserve our hospitality.
After all, this event may be a benefit to peninsula businesses, tourism industry and image in general, but what this week boils down to is the youth.
This is their week. Let’s help them enjoy it. There’s no doubt they’ll remember the beauty of the Kenai Peninsula, let’s do our part to make sure they also remember its people as gracious hosts.
The 2006 Arctic Winter Games will only happen once. It’s time to celebrate.
Let the Games begin.
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