Some nerves and questions arose from the Stoney Nakoda First Nation youth about the cross-country ski race – the Spirit North Barhe Piîchiya Loppet – but a growing sense of excitement also buzzed for the activities and people awaiting them.
Once they snapped into skis and learned the basics for a day of fun, empowerment and inspiration, which has been at the forefront of Spirit North’s mission, the playful sounds of kids having fun was heard across the Nordic centre.
“We’re seeing lots of effort, lots of kids challenging themselves and lots of smiles and laughs, which is what the program is all about,” said Beckie Scott, CEO of Spirit North.
“We got a few kids out here today who are on skis for the first time ... We’ve got kids in the program for the whole season now and we’re seeing some students who have a lot of talent now, so that’s encouraging and really fun to watch.”
Scott, an Olympic gold and silver medallist, spends a lot of time in the office these days, but she was back on skis Tuesday along with a group of volunteers who helped to run Spirit North’s events including some of her Olympian friends such as Brendan Green and Megan Imrie.
She added the Spirit North program helps create opportunities and inspire Indigenous youth through sport.
Justin Beaver Holloway, a Grade 7 student from Morley Community School (MCS), returned to the Nordic Centre for the loppet’s second anniversary during the sunny day with temperatures hovering around 0 C.
He said he would like to continue with the program for years to come.
“I was here last year for the other race and I placed second last. Today, I placed ninth,” said Beaver Holloway. “[The loppet] was good, it was fun, [and] hot, really hot.”
For many students participating with Spirit North, they're doing something brand new in a foreign environment and that's just what the students' teachers appreciate about the program.
“A lot of students wouldn’t have this opportunity if it wasn’t for Spirit North,” said Elizabeth Loewen, a teacher at MCS. “It’s just something to get them out of their comfort zone, it’s something new and to just have fun with other schools and connecting with the other schools, it’s awesome.”
Grade 4-9 students from MCS, Nakoda Elementary School, Exshaw School and Tsuut’ina First Nation took part in Tuesday's events at the Canmore Nordic Centre.
Since 2009, Spirit North has spread its wings across five provinces and has reached 6,000 children. Scott hopes within three years, the program will expand to Ontario and North West Territories and reach 10,000 Indigenous youth.
“The only limit right now is our capacity because the demand is there,” Scott said.