Nathaniel Davis uses his knuckles and toes to traverse the length of the gym at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School while practicing the seal hop event for the Native Youth Olympics. Youths from two local teams will compete with others from around the state at an event in Anchorage next week.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Two Native Youth Olympics teams from the Kenai Peninsula will head to Anchorage next week to demonstrate a stamina and flexibility unknown to most.
In addition to being a sporting event, the competitive events in NYO have a cultural meaning as well, as athletes breathe life into hunting and communication techniques used for thousands of years.
The event will be held May 5-7 at the Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.
NYO athlete Joe Leach said these events originated out of survival in the north.
"All the events were used to help Native people keep their skills up for hunting and staying alive," Leach said.
The events require radical agility and flexibility. Leach has been perfecting his seal hop, an exercise derived from hunters sneaking up on packs of seals. Leach demonstrated the event, explaining how important strength becomes in performing it. From a push-up position and supported by the heal of their first knuckles, participants hop across the floor on hands and toes. The winner is whoever is able to travel the farthest distance without stopping.
"You can't just walk up to a bunch of seals and throw a spear into it. The Natives would dress up in skins and hop to them, sometimes they would have to hop 100 yards that's not easy to do," he said.
He added that another related event also arose from hunting seals, as hunters also had to hop between floating chunks of ice in search of their quarry.
"The scissor broad jump is a way to jump across an ice floe," he said.
Samantha Georges, top, pulls Darla Mamaloff across the floor while building muscles for the foot pull event. NYO events reward stamina, strength and muscle control.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Although event origins are based on traditional Native activities, the competition is open to all students from seventh to 12th grade, regardless of ethnicity.
Kenaitze Indian Tribe Cultural Heritage Youth Program Director and NYO coach Amber Glenzel said the Olympics are not so much about competition with other teams, but more about beating personal goals.
"The heart of the game is really sportsmanship and learning to be an adult. We, as adults, deal with that all the time," Glenzel said. "We don't put any pressure on them for competition, only to achieve their own goals. If they happen to walk away with a medal, that's great, too."
NYO is becoming a growth sport on the peninsula. The Kenai and Soldotna teams have won the sportsmanship awards for the past two years, and Glenzel said this year she has enough interested and involved kids to organize two teams. One team will represent the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, the other will represent Salamatof Native Association Inc. Both teams represent the peninsula.
Salamatof team captain Sam Peter Jr. said when he competes at the Olympics, everyone is supportive of the other competitors.
"It's not really about beating someone else. There's nothing better than beating your personal goals," he said.
Athlete Leroy Shangin has participated in the games for 15 years and said it is important to promote the ways of his Native ancestors and pass traditions on to future generations.
"I want to teach my 3-year old nephew, Severin, how to participate," he said. "I'd like to see him do better than me when he gets older."
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