Backstroking to a higher level

Katie Brickman
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NAIG swimmers compete in Moose Jaw

The North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) is the first step for many Aboriginal youth athletes to reach their goals.

And it almost didn’t happen for some.

Thirteen sports were held in Regina throughout the week, but only one event was held in Moose Jaw — swimming.

“Unfortunately, the host society didn’t feel like they were in a position to deliver the swimming competition,” said Rick Brant, Director of the Aboriginal Sport Recreation Physical Activity Partners in B.C. “They had already determined that Moose Jaw was the host site because of problems with the pool in Regina and a lack of officials.

When faced with the possibility that the swimming event could be cancelled, a group of people from various teams banded together to save the event.

“A number of teams said they would bring their own officials, but unfortunately, the host society made the decision that they still were not in a position to deliver it. So, we stepped up and offered to host and cover the majority of the costs. The teams provided cash and in-kind contributions along with people to pull it off,” explained Brant. “A group of us came together to save the event and put together lots of expertise and resources, like reaching out to the City of Moose Jaw to secure the facility and insurance in order to deliver the competition.”

The Partners Council was technically the host of the event and took on the legal and financial responsibilities of the competition this week.

“A number of other teams have come together to offset the costs and contribute to the event,” said Brant. “What you see is a core group of organizers from B.C. who have flown here to organize the competitions along with volunteers from various teams to help officiate.”

Many of those volunteers were parents of the 85 athletes competing in events at the Kinsmen Sportsplex pool.

“It is an amazing event and what is making it so special is the contribution from all the teams,” said Brant. “It is a spirited community … it really is. The parents are just over the moon they are here. They are cheering for everybody and they are all pitching into to help with the event.”

The vision of these Games is to improve the quality of life for Indigenous Peoples through sport, but also to promote history and culture.

“It is about promoting healthy active lifestyles — providing an opportunity that ideally, these kids, will follow a path that not only in their youth, but through their adulthood that will keep them healthy and active and will transform communities,” said Brant. “This is a starting point with working with a youth generation. They will emerge as productive members in their own communities and become young leaders.”

There were competitors ranged from 13 years old to 18 years old, including some at the national level.

“These are the best of the best from across North America in terms of Aboriginal athletes,” said Brant. “The last Games were six years ago, so in many respects, because it is a youth-focused event, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Brant also explained that many of these athletes have hopes and dreams to compete at international and national events in the future.

“We have a number of kids that are drawn into the sport in more isolated communities and these Games are positioned as a stepping stone,” he said. “We hope that as Aboriginal athletes, they will see this not as the pinnacle, but their goals are the Olympics and bigger.”

Follow Katie on Twitter @katiebrickman.

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