Nome athletes win medals at NYO Games
By Peter Loewi
Eight Nome-Beltz students competed in the Senior Native Youth Olympics in Anchorage last week, but as any NYO community member can tell you, they aren’t competing against each other. “It’s just everybody competing against themselves to be the best they can be,” said senior Parker Kenick. “It is a caring community unlike any other sport.”
Kenick took first place in the One-Hand Reach, second in the Two-Foot High Kick and fourth in the One-Foot High Kick.
Despite having practiced NYO games for 10 years, he said he couldn’t even do the One-Hand Reach until his junior year. And while he doesn’t credit the transition back to in-person games with his success, returning after two years of virtual competition “makes a world of difference, and I’m glad I was able to participate in person this year,” Kenick said.
This sentiment was echoed by Head Coach Vanessa Tahbone. “It changes the whole morale of the kiddos,” she said. “Competing at the state level gives a great experience, one to travel, two to make new friends, the atmosphere is very exciting. It’s a whole different feeling. It was good to have the NYO community back in person.”
Another such unique opportunity was to meet NYO legends and get demonstrations, such as from Nome’s Nicole Johnston, Unalakleet’s Stuart Towarak, or Juneau’s Kyle Kaayák’w Worl. Johnston and Worl were both inducted into the North American Indigenous Athletics Hall of Fame earlier this year.
“NYO, to me, is what keeps me the most connected to my Alaska Native heritage and culture,” Kenick said. The NYO mindset is unique, he explained, and lacks the toxicity of many competitive sports, giving a sense of “peacefulness and caring for each and every athlete.”
But that’s not to say by any means that the games are easy. All the games are both highly technical and physical. “It’s very intense,” Tahbone said.
Tahbone has been the Nome head coach for the past six years but has been going to the statewide competition since at least 2006, pausing only for childbirth. “Once you go, you’re hooked,” she said.
Kenick said that he first learned about NYO when he was in elementary school and hopes to pass it on. “I’d really like to show the youth what this really is, and be able to open up opportunities for them,” he said. “Opportunities which were shown to me.” In a survey of participants at the 2021 Senior Games, 85 percent saw themselves as a role-model for future NYO athletes, and 63 percent credit NYO as an incentive to stay in school.
Five of this year’s Nome team are graduating seniors, many of whom Tahbone has coached since they were in elementary school in an after-school program, which she hopes to bring. “I’m excited to see what kind of turnout we have next year,” she said.
In addition to Kenick’s accomplishments, senior Teague Green-Johnson took first in the Indian Stick Pull and second in the Seal Hop, and senior Colin McFarland took fifth in the Scissor Broad Jump. Bering Strait School District’s A-Team took third place overall and the Academic Excellence Award.
Understandably, Tahbone is incredibly proud of the athletes after two hard years of the pandemic. In addition to the heritage and the comradery, Tahbone said that “the cherry on top for the seniors was getting to showcase their abilities and bring home some hardware.”
“Probably the best part of the Native Youth Olympics is that the community and everybody else is proud of you and want to see you do your best,” Kenick said.