On Feb. 19, several members of Hay River town council recognized the 25 young athletes from the community, along with a member of the mission staff and a coach, who had planned to be at the Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse this month before the event was cancelled due to concerns about the coronavirus. On hand were, front row, left to right, Elie Lepage, Nikolas Hawkins, Hunter Groenewegen, Alex Hubert, Kami Gostick, Mackenzie Schwartz, Helene McKay-Ivanko, Miah Harris, Rylee Robillard, Shelby Snow, Jenna Demarcke and Madyson Schwartz; and, back row, left to right, member of the mission staff Paula Gour, Chandelle Leonard, Layne Leonard, Luke Pettipas, Conner McKay-Ivanko, Gavyn Lamoureux, Owen Pettipas, Mayor Kandis Jameson, Deputy Mayor Robert Bouchard, biathlon coach Chuck Lirette, Coun. Jeff Groenewegen, Keira Coakwell, Brianna Goodwin, Shanelle Moore, Grayson Groenewegen, Crystal Zhang, Jack Irwin and Delayna Cross. Missing from the photo is athlete Kaden Beck.
NNSL file photo

Like other athletes and coaches who were heading to the Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse, those in Hay River are still coming to grips with the cancellation of the games due to fears of the coronavirus.

“Everyone was upset because of how much work we put in it together,” said 13-year-old Helene McKay-Ivanko, who qualified for the games as a goalie for a futsal team representing the NWT.

Now, the Grade 8 student at Ecole Boreale has set her sights on the 2022 Arctic Winter Games in Fort McMurray, Alta.

“I’m hoping to make the next one,” she said.

Chuck Lirette, a coach for the NWT’s ski biathlon and snowshoe biathlon team, was taken aback when the games were cancelled on March 7 by organizers in Whitehorse on the recommendation from the Yukon’s chief medical officer.

“I guess initially we were very surprised, very shocked because up to that point in time there was no discussion of cancellation being a possibility,” Lirette said. “The news that we had said that they were prepared for the coronavirus and well equipped with hand sanitizers and different procedures they were going to follow.”

Lirette was he was disappointed for the young athletes.

“The biathletes that I work with here in Hay River we’ve been training together for two years to get ready for the Arctic Winter Games,” he said.

However, he noted the discussion has shifted from the Whitehorse Arctic Winter Games to talking about continuing to getting ready for the next games.

“So they turned a real negative and they very quickly kind of put a positive light on it, and took it in stride and are planning to get ready for 2022 in Fort McMurray,” he said.

Despite his disappointment, Lirette said he has to agree with the decision to cancel the games, noting public health and safety have to come first.

At the Hay River town council meeting on March 9, Coun. Keith Dohey paid tribute to the 25 young athletes from Hay River, along with Lirette and mission staff member Paula Gour.

“We know you would have represented Hay River and the Northwest Territories with class in front of the circumpolar world,” said Dohey, council’s liaison for youth. “My heart goes out to all of you that didn’t get to happen this year. Having been involved in the 2018 games, I can only imagine how crushing this must feel.”

Dohey said Hay River is proud of all of them.

The Arctic Winter Games had been set to run from March 15-20.

Paul Bickford

Paul Bickford is the reporter for Hay River Hub.

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