Athletes in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, are getting help from their community to get pumped up for the upcoming Arctic Winter Games (AWG) in Alaska. 

On Thursday afternoon, athletes at Maani Ulujuk Illiniarvik (MUI) walked onto the stage in their high school gym, AC/DC’s Thunderstruck blaring from a speaker, for a pep rally with their classmates and peers. Posters decorated the walls from one end to another. 

There were also some teachers, parents and community members who packed the gym to show their support for the 18 students from the school who earned spots on Team Nunavut. 

Among those athletes is 15-year-old Makalya Kaludjak, a forward/centre on the U16 women’s hockey team. 

“I’m kinda nervous, ’cause this is my first time without my mom there. But I feel like I’ll have a lot of fun and I’m super excited,” Kaludjak said.

A young woman wearing a 'Team Nunavut' t-shirt stands in front of some posters on a wall.
Makalya Kaludjak, 15, says she’s a little nervous about going to the AWG but she’s also ‘super excited.’ (Juanita Taylor/CBC)

Kaludjak’s mom was in the crowd at the pep rally. The young athlete said she felt shy seeing everyone there.

“It was good, and I think it’s different from different communities, ’cause most communities don’t do this for the AWG participants — and I think it’s good to show that you’re representing Nunavut.”

Keeping the tradition going

Altogether, 27 athletes from Rankin Inlet will be heading to Alaska to compete.

They’ll each have an extra $100 in their pockets, thanks to a donation from a regional Kivalliq hockey club. The donation was presented at Thursday’s pep rally. 

MUI’s physical education teacher Steve Faulker helped organize the rally. He said it’s a tradition at the school to honour students’ achievements. 

“You know, they work hard. A lot of people have worked hard to get the the athletes where they are today, whether it’s parents and family or coaches,” he said.

A man in a yellow 'Team Nunavut' jersey stands in front of a poster on a wall.
Steve Faulker, a physical education teacher at Maani Ulujuk Illiniarvik, said it’s a tradition at the school to honour students’ achievements.  (Juanita Taylor/CBC)

“It creates a lot of community spirit, a lot of school spirit.”

Winners of a cheer contest were announced after a motivational speaker said a few words of encouragement. The hamlet’s mayor and deputy mayor also spoke at the rally. 

Eye on the prize

Taking it all in was Darren Ikakhik, Sr., whose son, Darren Ikakhik, Jr., is one of the athletes. 

“It’s really important. You need to show support and we like to do that. And it’s a big thing for them,” said Darren Sr.

A man and a teenage boy stand with their arms around each other in front of some posters on a wall.
Darren Ikakhik, Jr., a forward on the U18 men’s hockey team, with his dad, Darren Ikakhik, Sr. (Juanita Taylor/CBC)

He watched his son play on the U16 men’s hockey team at the 2023 AWG in Fort McMurray, Alta., where Darren Jr. helped the team win bronze.

“You can’t miss it if you have a chance to go,” said Darren Sr.

It was also at the 2023 AWG when Nunavut’s U18 team took home the territory’s first gold ulu in men’s hockey — for many people, still an unforgettable moment one year later. 

This year, Darren Jr. is a forward on the U18 men’s team. He admits he’s a little bit nervous. But he says he does have a goal. 

“To get that gold ulu,” he said.

The 2024 Arctic Winter Games are from March 10 to 16 in Alaska’s Mat-Su Valley.

A group of people are seated on the stage inside a school gymnasium as other people on the gym floor look on.
The athletes received a donation from a regional Kivalliq hockey club at the pep rally. (Juanita Taylor/CBC)

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