Young sports team posing for photo with two large signs

Nome’s Native Youth Olympics season came to a close in April. The team participated in the first in-person state meet since 2019 in Anchorage, and a record-setting meet in Juneau. It was a very successful season despite a late start and a declining number of athletes throughout the season.

The coach of Nome’s eight-athlete team, Vanessa Tahbone, described the Juneau meet as particularly memorable.

“Everybody on the team medaled in an event, including myself: they had an open division. So that was really fun to be able to compete with the kids. You know, not in the high school division but, just to compete alongside with them and be a part of the whole atmosphere (which) was just amazing. It was so fun to just go down there and be able to have the kids compete in person. They got to see a lot of friends,” Tahbone said.

The Juneau meet allowed the athletes to properly prepare for the state meet where three Nome athletes medaled, Tahbone said. Parker Kenick medaled in the One Hand Reach, Two Foot High Kick and the One Foot High Kick. Teague Green Johnson medaled in the Indian Stick Pull and the Seal Hop, while Colin McFarland medaled in the Scissor Broad Jump.

At the Juneau meet, Green Johnson broke the records for the High School Boys’ Wrist Carry and Seal Hop. Kenick set new records for One and Two Foot High Kicks of the same division.

The state medalists showed long-term dedication, which set them apart, Tahbone said.

“For those particular athletes, they’ve been in the sport, I’ve been coaching them, for a number of years and really it’s their dedication to the sport and to the games. They’ve been with the program throughout their high school career. Even through the pandemic, and even though we didn’t get to have in-person competitions last year and the year before, we did virtual, they still stuck with the program. They still came to practices,” Tahbone said.

In order to reach success in the NYO Games, Nome’s team had to work hard. They started their practices with three main warm-up routines, including their ‘NYO” routine which Tahbone describes as a “collaborative of different movements that correlate to the games in one way or another.” The routine includes stretches, planking, pushups, balancing exercises and other exercises that allow athletes to strengthen specific parts of their body that they will need to use in various events. The next routine is the “Lunge Lunge Jump” routine to help athletes prepare for the high kick events, and then the “Seal Walk,” a planking exercise.

“Once we are done with our routines for the day, we have these sheets called agility sheets which allow us to mark down our progress in each game. And we just kind of markdown where our baseline is, where we start, so if you do the kneel jump, the first week of practice, maybe you can’t perform this event very well, maybe you are only going five inches. But then maybe by week three, you’ve increased your distance. And we are able to track that over time with these agility sheets,” Tahbone said.

As the season went on, the athletes chose specific NYO events to perfect.

“So for instance, Parker Kenick, he was working on his one hand reach to get more comfortable and fluent with that as he was wanting to break his personal best. And he was able to do that at the state competition, from the hard work and stuff that he put in for that game,” Tahbone said.

According to Tahbone, NYO teaches athletes a different approach to sports since the event is so unique. The athletes, Tahbone said, treat the games as competitions against themselves, first and foremost, and show a lot of encouragement, feedback, and good sportsmanship to their teammates and competitors. Of course, the events also ground the Native Alaskan athletes in their heritage.

“It’s a good way for students to connect with their culture. They might not have any other opportunities to do so. It’s a great way to learn about some history about the culture. All the games tie back to hunting, hunter success, and what it takes to go out on the land,” Tahbone said.

Tahbone is looking forward to a bigger, longer NYO season next year, as well as having an expanded set of NYO games in Nome as part of June’s Midnight Sun Festival.

Image at top: The NYO Nome team at the state meet in Anchorage. Image courtesy of NYO Games/CITC. Used with permission (2022).