Reaching Higher At NYO

Apr 30, 2018

Bethel Regional High School with the second highest team GPA at the state Native Youth Olympics held by Cook Inlet Tribal Council on April 28, 2018.
Credit Tommy Bayayok

The Native Youth Olympics is much more than an athletic competition. It is an expression of arctic culture, with games based on the skills required to survive on land and ice. KYUK looks at the role of family and joy in the accomplishments of a couple of this year’s outstanding athletes. 

The one arm reach is considered by many to be one of the toughest games in the Native Youth Olympics. This year it was dominated by girls from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.                                                        

“She actually hit the ball with that last one,” says Tommy Bayayok, the coach for Bethel’s NYO team. ”Just didn’t maintain balance after the reach.”

In the one arm reach, balance is crucial. A ball made of seal skin is suspended above the athlete, who is perched on one hand. A judge lies on the floor checking to make sure that no other part of the body but the hand touches the floor, while the athlete reaches for the ball overhead. JoBeth Stuart of Bethel came in third, reaching 56 inches. Chantal Snyder from Kwigillingok watched, along with her coach, who is also her ap’a. That’s “grandfather” in Yup’ik. Snyder has an advantage: the one hand reach is a family tradition. 

“It’s in my genes, I think.” said Snyder. “It’s been passing down from my sister to me. My little sister Delores, she’s seven years old and she’s inspired on how one arm is to us.”

Long reaches can throw athletes off balance. To get more height, some balance on their knuckles instead of their hand. Snyder, however, uses a unique approach. She harnesses the strength of her thumb and fingers to push higher, gaining a few extra inches while maintaining a more stable platform to hold her legs off the floor while she reaches.

“It looks like it’s a flat hand, but I always go on my thumb for a higher height. I’m not using my palm to balance.”                               

No one taught her this technique.

“My sister used to do the knuckle, but I taught myself to use my thumb and my other fingers.”

And it works. She took home a first-place medal for the Lower Kuskokwim School District by reaching 58 inches. Snyder says that there is a bit of sisterly rivalry at play in the victory.

"I’m able to tell my sister that I beat her because I have been working hard to reach that 58 inches that she has been trying to reach ever since she has been high school, and I have to tell her that I tried reaching 59," she said, giggling.

Snyder has a 4.0 grade average and also understands the need to support others. When her friend Katelyn Paul was struggling in the two-foot high kick, Snyder massaged her arms to get her to relax before facing a tough opponent. It was not enough. Katelyn Paul came in second behind the indomitable Alexandria Ivanoff from the Bering Strait School District. 

Ivanoff is an outstanding athlete who took home three first-place ribbons this year: in the scissors board jump, the one-foot high kick, and the two-foot high kick. She came in second in the kneel jump. Nick Hanson, better known as the Eskimo Ninja on the “Ninja Warrior” television show, was her coach. 

“You’re so high,” he told her as she was preparing to kick again. “You’re jumping so high. Go straight instead. Jump straight up instead.” 

“Okay,” Allie acknowledged before taking her jump. 

Not only did Ivanoff win the two-foot high kick, she kept looking for a personal best by using Hansen’s suggestion to pull her arms down when she jumped.

“It’s going to help get my hips above my body so I don’t fold over in half and stop right where I am level,” she said.

Hansen also told her to “kick with joy”. It worked. 

“Seventy-five inches. Yep, feels good,” Ivanoff said.

That two-foot high kick, at 6 feet, 5 inches, was way above her head. Ivanoff also took a first place Saturday in the one-foot high kick, achieving a personal best of 91 inches.

Here are the results for the Bethel NYO team: JoBeth Stuart - third place in the one hand reach and fifth in the Alaskan High Kick. Thomas Dyment - third place in the wrist carry. Kelsie Madson - fourth place in wrist carry. Mathew Ferguson and Albert Tulik also received medals for third and fourth place for carrying Dyment and Madson in the wrist carry.