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Arctic sports test strength and agility

By Heather Hintze 11:01 PM March 17, 2014

The kneel jump and one-hand reach took center stage at the Arctic Winter Games.

FAIRBANKS - With a loud thud, the Arctic sports kicked off its first event at the Arctic Winter Games, the kneel jump.

“I’ve done the kneel jump, so it’s one of my personal favorites as far as the competition goes,” said Nicole Johnston, a game official. “I love the explosive action that goes off the kneel jump and I know how difficult it can be.”

Competitors have to keep their knees on the ground. They say unlike the Native Youth Olympics, at the Arctic Winter Games they’re not allowed to rock back and forth to get up.

“I like how you have to swing yourself up and use all your momentum. It’s easy to catch onto, but landing is the challenging part,” said Mekhai Rich, a member of Team Alaska from Kenai.

Like all the Arctic events, the kneel jump isn’t just a game; it’s also a cultural tradition and survival skill.

“For example, you’re down on your knees and you’re butchering an animal and a bear or a wolf pack kind of sneaks up on you — because they can be stealth and very quiet and you don’t realize they’re there — and you have to jump quickly and move quickly to get up and away,” Johnston said.

Another test of agility is the one-hand reach.

“There’s a lot of technique involved and a lot of balance, so learning how to do the one-hand reach takes a lot of time and determination if it’s something you want to do,” said Drew Bell from Team Nunavut, a contingent from Canada.

Competitors must balance on one hand with their legs off the ground and reach up with another hand to touch a suspended ball. Every round the ball is moved four inches higher until four men are left. From there it’s raised two inches every round.

After they touched the ball, the men have to show they have control of their legs and continue to hold them off the ground until the official gives them the go-ahead to stop.

Johnston said it’s a game indigenous people played in their small, sod houses in the winter.

“To help build the core,  physical strength and mental preparation during the long, cold winter months because it takes up so very little room it was a good way to stay in shape and work on your strength and you’re coordination and your agility,” she said.

The sport not only brings out the best athletes, but also the best attitudes as well. When one person missed, members from other teams went into to provide strategies and form techniques to help them out.

“It’s awesome, you know everyone coming together and helping one another, the sportsmanship, the respect for not only one another, but for the games — that’s huge,” said Team Alaska competitor Casey Ferguson who won the game, reaching 5’6.”

It’s the spirit of camaraderie that makes the Arctic sports special and keeps competitors coming back to show off their skills.

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