About 80 athletes and their families will gather in Seward this weekend to compete in the Seward Native Youth Olympic Invitational.
According to Qutekcak Native Tribe youth coordinator Melanee Stevens, it's the first time the games have been in Seward since the 1990s.
The combined Seward junior and senior team has about 12 members and is currently about 50 percent Native.
"You don't have to be Native to compete in NYO," Stevens said.
The team practices three times a week.
"They work really well together," she said. "It's what I like about NYO. Most of the kids aren't the type that would normally play on team sports, and they come to NYO and they develop their self-esteem and pride."
Competition events such as two-foot high kick and Indian stick pull are based on traditional Native survival skills and demand endurance, strength and physical and mental agility.
"Kids come in kicking only a few feet, and by the time state comes around, they're kicking 60 inches," Stevens said.
That effort, though, takes a lot of practice, and preparation. In the beginning of the year, the kids are sore after every practice, she said. They can barely walk. All of their muscles ache. Yet by the end of the year they're so limber they can almost perform splits.
"It's amazing to watch their progress," Stevens said. "They get so excited when they see how far they've come. Once they have the confidence, they develop the skill."
There's a point in training when most athletes hit the wall. They start to get a good kicking height and then find themselves unable to progress.
"It's about trust," Stevens said. "They have to trust themselves that they can get over it.
The Seward NYO team philosophy stresses doing your best. Kids cheer each other one and older teammates help out the younger set.
"It's the personal goals we're after," Stevens said. "It doesn't matter if they get a medal. It's that they set themselves a goal and tried to reach it."
Stevens hopes that the Seward NYO Invitational is well attended by the community.
"I really hope that people come out and understand that it's a fun and athletic event," she said. "It's a whole different experience."
Seward Native Youth Olympics schedule
All events take place at Seward High School
Friday, April 15
7 p.m., Opening ceremony
7:30 p.m., Kneel jump
8:30 p.m., Seal hop
Saturday, April 16
9 a.m., Opening performance
9:30 a.m., Scissor broad jump
10:30 a.m., Two foot high kick
1 p.m., Eskimo stick pool Indian stick pull (juniors)
2 p.m., One foot high kick
4:30 p.m., NYO potluck
6 p.m., Indian stick pull (seniors) and Eskimo stick (juniors)
7 p.m., Awards and raffle drawing
Sunday, April 17
9 a.m., Opening performance
9:30 a.m., Wrist carry
10:30 a.m., One hand reaches (seniors only)
1 p.m., Alaskan high kick
4 p.m., Awards and closing ceremony
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