"Winter in the arctic is cold and dark. The spirit of the Arctic Winter Games brings light to our part of the world. Our nations are all connected under the same sky. We are the people of the dancing light, where we reach for the stars and beyond."
From the opening ceremonies of the 2004 Arctic Winter Games in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada
Through the stories of Peninsula Clarion reporter Jenni Dillon and pictures of Clarion photographer Scott Moon, Kenai Peninsula residents have had a glimpse over the past week of what to expect two years from now when they host the 2006 Arctic Winter Games.
We hope Clarion readers are now able to share the same enthusiasm for this unique event as has been displayed by the nearly 40 young peninsula athletes who participated in the Games, which ended Saturday. Figure skater Jessica Turner, 12, of Soldotna summed it up this way: "It's just way different from the U.S. It's been a blast."
That kind of enthusiasm is catching. It will help fuel the hard work the peninsula has to do in the months ahead to be ready for the Games and the more than 6,000 visitors the Games will bring.
While the Games began primarily as an athletic competition, they have grown to be as much about preserving cultures and building relationships between northern communities as they are about providing student athletes with an opportunity to compete with others.
In the words of Nikiski wrestler Lance Penhale, a junior at Nikiski Middle-Senior High School and one of about 14 Alaska wrestlers at the Games: "It's so cultures can get together, so we can relate with other parts of the world. It's very fun. We have a lot of freedom ... and there's a lot of support from the community."
For both athletes and observers, the Games seem less about the competition and the variety of events and more about people meeting new friends, learning about unique customs, sampling different foods. Long after scores are forgotten, those memories of brand new experiences will linger forming a personal foundation that's helps one branch beyond the comfort of the known.
As Chris Hall, a freshman at Kenai Central High School and a cross-country skier who has participated in the Games, put it: "It's really cool to see where other countries are and to listen to the different dialects. I'm really enjoying watching other countries and how they participate. It's fun."
And challenging. Athletes for team sports, for example, didn't know each other before the Games. Very quickly they had to learn to work together and build on each other's strengths and weaknesses. Those kind of team-building skills will serve the young athletes well the rest of their lives.
With their influx of visitors, the Games bring with them a mini economic boom. Those 6,000 visitors pay for airline flights, hotel rooms and restaurant meals. They rent rooms. They buy souvenirs. The Games also are a catalyst for improving sporting venues in the host community better ice rinks and ski trails, for example.
Those are the kinds of things peninsula residents can look forward to in 2006.
But the hard work of the games isn't accomplished by some fairy godmother waving her magic wand. It takes cash. It takes volunteers. It takes a lot of planning and the 2006 host society now has a better handle on just how much after some of its members got to observe their counterparts in Fort McMurray during the past week.
As Dave Spence, one of the 2006 host society members, said: "This is going to involve a lot more participation by a lot more people."
By the time it's all over, thousands of peninsula volunteers will be needed. Because they now have a better understanding of what the Games are all about, we hope they are ready to say "yes" to the opportunities the Games present.
We can't think of a more perfect venue for the Games. The Kenai Peninsula is known for its scenery and its hospitality. It's accessible. Residents love to show off their community.
It is residents' commitment that was one of the decisive factors in awarding the 2006 Games bid to the peninsula. It will be residents' commitment that makes the 2006 event the most successful in Arctic Winter Games history. When the Games get under way in 2006, it will be because of the hard work of the entire peninsula today.
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