Native Youth Olympics (NYO) events — like the Eskimo stick pull, seal hop, kneel jump, scissor broad jump, and high kick — all connect to skills needed for subsistence.
The competitions test athlete core strength, agility, and endurance, and they build fine and gross motor muscles. The stick pull, for instance, involves a slick, greased dowel that two competitors hold at the same time, each trying to wrest away from the other. Hand grip is needed to clutch a newly-caught, slimy fish from a stream or river. The various jumping events teach dexterity and precision on ice, such as while hunting for seal and walrus. The jumps can also serve as a means of communication or a lookout for hunting parties approaching from a distance.
For Western Alaska youth and the communities that support them, NYO is cherished for team-building, fostering self-esteem and Native pride. Athlete support and camaraderie are integral to training and competition.
Images at top: During an April NYO competition in Nome, local student Elden Cross participates in the two-foot high kick, in which athletes aim to touch with their feet a sealskin beanbag at increasing heights. In this photo series, Cross reaches a height of about eight feet. Photos: Katie Kazmierski, KNOM.