Over 100 athletes from Fort Smith and Hay River, aged 5-50, took their starting positions and flew to the finish line, vying for gold medals and record-breaking times. Distances included the 400m, 800m, 1,500m, 3,000m and 5,000m.
Sandra Robichaud of Fort Smith broke a Northwest Territories record, racing among the first women in the 5,000m master event and inspiring her son to also compete in the race.
Other athletes came within seconds of breaking NWT records in the 400m events.
According to Joe LeBlanc, president of the NWT Track and Field Society, podium results from the recent Nike Grand Prix in Toronto proved Northern athletes can compete with the best in the country, and participating in new opportunities like the Fort Smith 5000 will help them do that.
“It was a tremendously rewarding day,” Patti-Kay Hamilton, one of the event organizers, said. “Exhausting, but worth it.”
Advice from track experts in Hay River, where the territorial championships are held, made the day a success, Hamilton noted.
“I had Bob White with Hay River Track and Field on speed dial, and Pat Bobinski, a longtime timer for the territorials, was here and trained our timers. That made such a difference,” Hamilton said. “Timing is difficult in track and our timers were nervous. But there were no mistakes made and Pat had only good things to say about our team of volunteers. That meant a lot to us, coming from someone with that level of experience at meets.”
The event was the brainchild of Denise Yuhas, president of the Fort Smith Track and Field Society.
Yuhas said she plans to make the event an annual occurrence.
Hamilton would like to see participants come from Fort Resolution, the Hay River Reserve and Fort Providence in coming years.
There is also talk of making the event a two-day affair, she said.
“There was a committee of about five of us for this, all from different backgrounds, and we all agreed we need someone with more experience in track as a technical director or something like that,” Hamilton said. “But I was so impressed with all our volunteers and how it went…The kids from Hay River said they just loved the track and that it was like running on a cushion.”
Janeya Edgi, 8, of Fort Smith said the event was “really fun” after competing in the 100m in the morning.
“I like running because I like playing tag,” she said. “I came in last, but that’s okay.”
The NWT’s outdoor track and field season continues with the territorial championships kicking off June 5 in Hay River.