You had to know that Veronica McDonald of Fort Smith was going to be successful when she decided to enter the 2018 edition of the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in Fairbanks, Alaska.
But she surprised even herself with how she did at the largest traditional sports gathering north of 60.
McDonald, who was the only athlete from the NWT entered in the entire competition, came home with a total of five medals – four gold and one bronze – after the four days of competition. Her golds came in the two-foot high kick, Alaskan high kick, kneel jump and the scissor broad jump while the bronze was won in the blanket toss.
When it came to the scissor broad jump, McDonald admitted she had neither heard nor seen it before competing in it.
“They told me ‘we don’t do the triple jump here’,” she said. “I Googled it and saw it and thought ‘wow.’ I did one practice run and I still wasn’t sure if I was doing it right.”
McDonald could have been forgiven for not knowing about the discipline as it’s not one seen in the NWT. It involves a competitor performing four consecutive hops or steps without losing their balance with a one-minute time limit to do it.
She obviously did it right as she managed to win the gold medal by leaping 26 ft, 8.5 in.
“I just went out and did my best,” said McDonald. “I treated it like the triple jump, where you jump, jump, and then take your biggest jump for your last one. It’s really hard on the limbs and you’re having to switch your feet every time you jump.”
The blanket toss is another event McDonald had never even thought about competing in but she gave it a go and ended up third. It involved a mixture of height and style with judges giving a score afterward.
“There’s a certain way they judge,” she said. “There’s how high you go when you get thrown up, there’s the landing and how you look while in the air. Some do spins in the air, some do backflips and it all counts toward style points.”
McDonald said the biggest thing is trusting the throwers who are holding the blanket.
In the kneel jump, McDonald leaped 54 ft., 0.25 in., just missing out on the world record to win gold but she decided to take a fourth jump – unofficial – and she wishes it was her third jump.
“I jumped 56 ft., which would have been a world record,” she said. “That was a time I wish it was official.”
But it was the Alaskan high kick where McDonald turned in a performance she had been trying to do for a long time. Meika McDonald, her mother and NWT Sport Hall of Fame member, managed to kick 5 ft., 11 in., which was her best all-time in her illustrious traditional games career. Daughter, though, did 6 ft. exactly and it was a big moment.
“My mom drove up for it and she was so excited,” said the younger McDonald. “I had never done higher than 5 ft., 8 in. so I was excited and it was awesome to have her there to see that.”
She very nearly did 6 ft., 2 in., but fell just short.
In all, McDonald entered a total of 12 events in her first-ever appearance in the extravaganza and said she was kept crazy busy but she wanted to try everything.
“It’s a very traditional event and everyone was so welcoming,” she said. “It was a big learning experience for me and it helped to broaden my background of some of the events that happen there.”
It’s an annual gathering and McDonald is hopeful to go back as often as she can to participate simply because it’s a chance to compete.
“There aren’t a lot of events like this in Canada, it’s really the Arctic Winter Games and that’s about it,” she said. “It reminded me how much I love doing this and now I want to keep on training. This is what gets me excited about doing traditional games.”