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A cultural village awaits out east - along with NAIG competition
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More than 5000 athletes, coaches and team staff representing 756+ Indigenous Nations are set to gather from July 15th – 23rd as the Nova Scotia communities of Kjipuktuk (Halifax), Dartmouth, Millbrook First Nation and Sipekne’katik play host to the 2023 North American Indigenous Games.

And as has been the case for the past 20 years or so – dating back to Colorado (2006 – for sure) and possibly Winnipeg (2002) or earlier – Sudbury and region will be represented on the field of play.

And has become the norm at recent Games, the northern Ontario crew are quite likely to factor into the medal count for Team Ontario.

For Benjamin Schell of the Sudbury Laurentian Swim Club, NAIG could not be arriving at a better time. The 17 year old St Charles College senior recently captured gold and silver at the OYJ Championships, narrowly missing out on double-gold as he truly finds himself as a swimmer.

“I recently learned that I am a backstroker,” said Schell with a laugh. “I always thought I was a freestyler or a breaststroker – but my backstroke has greatly improved over the years. I am very good with fast arms.”

The signs are encouraging as Schell overcame a nasty finger injury a year ago - though it should be noted that the pool has almost always been his home, when it came to sports. “I started with soccer – never really liked that,” he suggested. “Tried skating and that didn’t work for me. So my parents put me in swimming and saw that I had some talent – and I realized that as well.”

Physically, there may have been some tell-tale signs, even some that are perhaps more conjecture than fact. “I have always had a long arm span, so I was never really kick-based at all as a swimmer,” said Schell. “I was always arm dominated. And I am not sure if it’s true but I think I may be double-jointed in my shoulders, which apparently should help.”

As for the upcoming Games in which he will represent the Thessalon First Nation, Schell is more than happy to even have become aware of this opportunity. “My mom mentioned it to me a while ago; she got my interest in it,” he said. “I didn’t think I was good enough, honestly, but they saw me swim at the winter OYJs where I won bronze.”

“I am proud to be able to swim for Ontario,” Schell added. “This is the first time I will be participating in a swim meet that is just me with new people, staying at a university residence with me and my new teammates. I am pretty excited for that “live alone” experience.”

Traditionally, Ontario has performed well at NAIG in the team-based events. Local GSSC (Greater Sudbury Soccer Club) product Lukas Morin is certainly hoping that holds true once again.

Making the move from centreback to center mid (midfielder) just recently, the 14 year old student at Collège Notre-Dame is more than willing to play anywhere his Ontario coach might ask, even as he deals with the adjustment to his new position in TOSL league play.

“There is a lot more running at mid – but running track helped me out a bit,” said the youngest of three boys in the family who competed at OFSAA T & F last month after capturing the NOSSA 800m novice boys final in 2:13.17.

“I am more of an attacking mid,” Morin added. “I like scoring, giving opportunities to my teammates to score too. It’s just what I like more. I don’t like defending a lot. Sometimes I slack off on that part.”

Should he line up as a midfielder out east, Morin knows that rapid ball movement is sure to be one of the keys to success for his team. “I find I get stuck at times trying to find a pass,” he said. “I have to keep my head up, watch to see where the players are around me, where the opponents are positioning themselves so I can get my chance to pass.”

Off the field, Morin is also excited about the opportunities that this multi-sport event (16 different sports in all) will feature. “I learned that there is an entire cultural village, so I look forward to seeing that: the ceremonies, the food, all of the dances and stuff.”

For those reasons and plenty more, 16 year-old track and field athlete Saraya Eshkawkogan is equally as excited. “I am really looking forward to going to Halifax,” she said. “I really like to travel and I’ve never been to Halifax or the east coast. I am also really excited to see the cultural village, to see what they have in store for all of the participants.”

Entered into the 100m, 200m, 4 X 100m relay, long jump and triple jump, Eshkawkogan acknowledged that her preference lies in the latter event, the one in which she qualified for OFSAA 2022 in Toronto.

“I’ve always kind of have it pretty easy with the triple jump,” stated Eshkawkogan, who has combined some helpful assistance from high-school coaches with self-teaching in order to fine-tune her jumping skills. “I like the technique that comes with the triple jump. I’m a very technically inclined person; I like to focus on stuff that has a lot of technique.”

Still, there are the basics, such as comfortable breathing rhythm that can go a long way towards success. “I find that when my body and my mind are relaxed, I have a better outcome in the jump,” said Eshkawkogan.

While some competitors are likely to be a little awe-struck by the scope of NAIG 2023, the middle of three children in the family will draw upon the memories of OFSAA 2022 to prepare her for what is to come.

“It was a lot of fun, a really good experience,” noted the senior at Manitoulin Secondary School.

“It felt really professional, which I really enjoyed – and the competition was really, really good. I think this will help me.”

While there is no easy to locate list of the locals who are taking part in NAIG, some research uncovered the following athletes who are confirmed as members of Team Ontario: Andrew Rose (volleyball – played Chill); Kaylee Seguin (volleyball - played Chill); Maren Kasunich (track & field), Brooke Gibeault (U19 basketball); Jaron Panamick (fastball); Selena Chiblow-Carpenter (U14 basketball); Sophie Prince, Kealy Innes and Katie Innes – all U16 basketball.