Nuuk, Greenland, seems to be about the last place anybody would go for exposure, unless it's exposure to extreme cold we're talking about.
But exposure is exactly what Nikiski senior Mindy Cason will be looking for when she travels to Nuuk to play volleyball at the 17th Arctic Winter Games from March 17 to 24.
"It's a really exciting opportunity," said Cason, who is a middle hitter. "I hope I can take it, and go somewhere with it. I'm hoping this will help me to be able to play volleyball in college."
The Arctic Winter Games, which involves athletes from Russia, Canada, Greenland and Alaska, has more participants than the Winter Olympics. This winter, nearly 2,000 athletes will compete for gold, silver and bronze ulus.
"It's a unique opportunity," said Nikiski volleyball coach Cherrie Hobart-Verkuilen. "Not many high school kids get a chance for international competition."
For the first time, two cities in two countries will join to host the games. The host cities are Nuuk, and Iqaluit, Canada, which is the capital of the territory Nunavut. The two host cities sit 600 miles apart and are separated by the Davis Strait. Nuuk and Iqaluit are both at about the same latitude as Healy.
Since athletes travel only to the city hosting their sport, and remain there for the duration of the games, Cason will get to experience Nuuk.
"All I know about it right now is that it's cold there," Cason said.
Only nine volleyball players are invited to join Team Alaska, which will send a total of about 280 athletes to compete in 17 different sports at the games. Cason had to apply for the team, then coach Liz Hooe, who lives in Anchorage, got to see her play at several big Anchorage tournaments.
Hooe liked what she saw, and the week before the region volleyball tournament, which was on Nov. 1, 2 and 3 this year, Hooe invited Cason to join the team.
The invitation left Cason with a giant opportunity, but also a number of dilemmas. The first was the timing of the games. Because they will be held during the state basketball tournament, Cason had to decide between Team Alaska and playing her senior year of basketball for the Bulldogs.
"It's a very big sacrifice," Cason said. "I want to play basketball, and I love basketball, but I hope this opens up more doors for me.
"It was something I thought a lot about before I made the decision. I didn't really know what to do at first."
Once Cason made the decision to go, she had a financial hurdle to clear. The trip to Greenland will cost Cason about $2,500. Sponsorships from Vincents Auto in Nikiski and Grossl Photography in Soldotna have helped Cason make major headway toward her goal, but she still is seeking sponsorships from area businesses.
Several colleges have already talked to Cason about joining their programs next year, but she would like to use the tournament to expand her options.
That Cason is even being considered by colleges at all is a story in itself, because as a sophomore Cason was in danger of getting cut from the volleyball team.
"The talent was always there, I was just a little uncoordinated," Cason said. "I owe a lot to (coaches) Cherrie Hobart-Verkuilen and Bruce King. They helped me excel."
Cason will practice several times with the team to prepare for the games and also will keep her skills sharp by playing with the Midnight Sun volleyball club on the peninsula.
"I was blessed with this talent and I plan to use it to the best of my ability," Cason said. "I thank God every day for what he gave me.
"Only by God's grace am I in this position to begin with."
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