With the 2016 Arctic Winter Games (AWGs) just around the corner, Team Alberta North is finalizing its lineup and preparing to ship out another successful group of athletes.
High on the excitement of the Western Canada Summer Games, which were held in Wood Buffalo this past summer, many of the players and their supporters are looking forward to their return to the competitive arena, this time on a circumpolar scale.
“Our full team will include 244 athletes, coaches, cultural participants and mission staff and we’re competing in 13 sports, plus cultural representatives,” said Jerry George, Chef de mission for the team. This year, he noted, Team Alberta North will not send over a basketball team.
All of the participants hail from communities north of the 55th Parallel.
“We do really well,” George said. “We don’t send quite as large of a team as NWT, Yukon and Alaska, but certainly we have a pretty strong team.”
At the last AWGs, held in Fairbanks, Alaska in 2014, Team Alberta North finished in third place, bringing home a whopping 129 medals – including 46 gold, 49 silver and 34 bronze – despite being a relatively small team that included only 118 athletes.
One of the most outstanding members was Grande Prairie’s Melanie Curtis, who broke world records for the women’s open one-foot kick in Arctic sports. At five-foot-four, Curtis reached a height of 7’10”, earning her the gold medal and title of flag-bearer for the closing ceremonies.
“Mel … really developed into a strong Arctic sports athlete who respects the games, the officials and the other athletes,” said Tim Horsman, team coordinator for Arctic sports and coach for the men’s team. “She is a captain for our entire Arctic sports team, and is well respected by all of Team AB North.”
Now ready to participate in her fourth and final round of Arctic Winter Games, Curtis aims to go out with a bang.
“Every time you hit a height they raise it and I never wanted to know what the height was at, so when I finished and they told me I’d broken the record, I was pretty excited,” Curtis said. “My goal is to break that record.”
The dream is lofty: a full-time gymnast outside of her Arctic sports career, Curtis has been on hiatus for almost two years after injuring her foot. She is determined though, to be better than the best.
“I still coach gymnastics so I come in with the girls and I do some conditioning and I do what they do,” she said. She has also been training specifically in Arctic sports on her home turf at the Grande Prairie Gymniks Gymnastics Club.
“I’ve only left Canada twice – once to go to Alaska and once to go to Mexico – so I’m pretty excited for this,” she said. “I’m looking forward to finding out what Greenland’s culture is all about and how they do things. I’m excited to meet new people and make new memories.”
For those novice AWG participants competing for the first time, Curtis has some sound advice.
“Just try your best and have fun.”
On Jan. 30, Team Alberta North will host staging events in Grande Prairie and Fort McMurray, where athletes and their supporters will have the opportunity to learn more about the games, what to expect on the ground in Nuuk, Greenland and Nunavut, and to pick up their uniforms for the opening ceremonies.