CANMORE – Stoney Nakoda youth Alva Snow was humble and quiet in the moments before the inaugural Canmore Spirit North cross-country ski race.
“I don’t really know how I’ll do today. I think OK, but not the best,” Snow, 12, said with a smile and nervous laugh.
Standing along with her peers at the Canmore Nordic Centre Tuesday morning (Jan. 22), students from Tsuut’ina, Stoney Nakoda, Exhsaw and Lawrence Grassi Middle School flooded the Bill Warden Training Centre in preparation for the two-kilometre race. Some were putting on skis for the first time.
“It keeps them out of trouble, it keeps them grounded, it makes them socialize with each other, which is important I think,” said Tristan House, community Stoney Nordic Team ski coach in-training.
“And to be out in world-class facilities like this, it teaches them about discipline and respect and it empowers them – that’s what we want.”
Hosted by Spirit North, with volunteers who have been working with Tsuut’ina and Stoney Nakoda youth for the past several years, the program seeks to bring together Indigenous youth while offering to improve health and well-being through sport and play.
“To me, I look at the kids and they are enjoying it,” said elder Virgil Stevens, who was in attendance to do a prayer and blessing before the race.
“They are willing to challenge what they come here to do – to be part of it and learn from their work. And that is why we come here to support it.”
With no shortage of support from their community and volunteers, Bow Valley local and dual-season Olympic medallist Clara Hughes was also in attendance for the inaugural race.
“It’s just so much fun and you know, as a former Olympic athlete, it brings me back to the pure essence of and joy of being outside and learning new skills,” Hughes said.
Volunteering with youth from Stoney Nakoda and Tsuut’ina Nation for the past two years, Hughes said she was excited to watch the youth race for the first time.
“I’m really excited to see them compete and push and have fun,” Hughes said with a smile.
“It’s good to challenge yourself physically, you learn a lot when you push beyond the limits you think you have, so I hope to just encourage them.”
While excitement was at an all time high for the race in the morning, the community ski coach in training talked about the larger implications than winning a medal.
“They have grown a lot and learned a lot about respect,” House said.
“They’ve become more aware of their surroundings and what they need to do to be successful … we just want positive things for our youth.”
And for some today was about the medal, as Stoney Nakoda youth Alva Snow was the first one to cross the finish line. Tired and proud.