Juneau NYO coach wins six medals at circumpolar Arctic Winter Games
Now preparing Juneau team for Native Youth Olympics program co-sponsored by SHI
Juneau athlete Kyle Kaayák’w Worl, lead coach for Juneau’s Native Youth Olympics team co-sponsored by Sealaska Heritage, brought home six medals from last week’s Arctic Winter Games, a biennial, international sporting competition open to northern and Arctic athletes. Held this year in Northwest Territories, Canada, the Arctic Winter Games emphasizes cultural exchange, mentorship, and a positive atmosphere, and in that spirit Kyle said his focus – and his message to the young athletes he trains – is on achieving his personal best rather than on outshining the competition.
“The atmosphere of the games is very supportive,” he said. “If you’re reaching your personal best, everybody is happy for you, everybody is cheering you on, and everyone helps each other out. That’s how I became successful as an athlete, by learning from other athletes. That’s what these events are for – learning from other people and sharing techniques.”
Kyle competed in all 10 of the events in the Arctic Sports division of the games, which test skills of strength, agility, balance, endurance and focus. His most challenging win was the Knuckle Hop – an event for which his father, Rodney Worl, holds the world record (191’ 10”). In the Knuckle Hop, athletes balanced on clenched fists and toes hop forward in a plank position, propelling themselves as far as they can around a rectangular course. Kyle’s knuckles were bloody as he made his way around the gym floor, calf muscles burning after the first 50 feet, but he managed to achieve his personal best of 167 feet – and finished in first place.
“Every year I get a little closer to my dad’s record and this year I was 25 feet off,” Kyle said. “It feels like it’s in sight.”
He also achieved his personal best in the Alaskan High Kick, an event in which competitors kick as high as they can with one foot while balanced on one hand and holding the other non-kicking foot. Kyle, who is 5’8”, said though there’s a definite height advantage in this event, he trained for years and finally mastered the technique of inverting his body into a one-hand handstand.
“There’s a big hurtle in learning Alaskan High Kick –going vertical. Once you can bring your hips above your head, it becomes a whole different game. But it’s a really unnatural movement, and it can be a little scary at first. It really just takes years of practice. For me it was my fourth year of training.”
His third first-place finish was in the Kneel Jump, which entails jumping into a standing position from a kneeling position and trying to cover as much ground in your jump as possible. He also won bronze medals in Airplane and One Hand Reach, and a silver medal for best all-around male performance in the Open Division.
In Juneau, Kyle is preparing his Juneau team for the statewide NYO competition April 26-28 in Anchorage. Most of the 10 or 11 team members had no experience with the games; this year’s team is Juneau’s first in almost 30 years (Facebook Event).
“For being their first year, they’re doing really well,” he said. “And they’re super excited now that they know they’re going to state. They’re training pretty hard. I’m really happy with the team we’ve built.”
As with the 10 events in the Arctic Sports division of the Arctic Winter Games, events in the NYO are based on hunting and survival skills that allowed the indigenous people of Arctic regions to thrive by working together. Kyle said he emphasizes that spirit of cooperation when training his athletes.
“I want them to have a good experience and not be focused on medals,” he said. “What I always tell my athletes is that in competing, you’re competing against yourself. You’re trying to reach your own personal best and give it your best effort, and not rank yourself against the other athletes. They’ll have a great time if they have that in mind.”
Juneau’s NYO program is co-sponsored by Sealaska Heritage, Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, the Juneau School District’s Indian Studies program and the University of Alaska Southeast Wooch Een club. Fundraising is currently underway to provide airfare for all members of the Juneau team.
Watch Kyle’s Knuckle Hop (@ :50):https://bit.ly/2pJliFI