Native Youth Olympics brings the pain while honoring a culture

Thirteen-year-old Leila Kell of Palmer held a plastic bag filled with ice against her right wrist.

Fifteen-year-old Andrew Wilson of Kenai held out his right hand, palm up, to show how red his wrist and forearm were.

Seventeen-year-old Earl Annogiyuk of Gambell raised his right hand as if inviting a high five so a friend could push against his fingers and bend his wrist backward to provide relief to cramping muscles.

This was the aftermath of the wrist carry at Thursday's Native Youth Olympics at the Alaska Airlines Center. It's not bloody like the knuckle hop or the ear pull, but like so many Native sports, it brings the pain.

On a scale of 1 to 10, Kell rated her discomfort a 9, which on the pain chart is one spot away from the frowning face with a teardrop on its cheek.

"I injured my wrist doing the Alaska high kick" at a competition earlier this year, she explained. "This is a re-injury. Hanging from it hurts."

The wrist carry is murder on the wrist, which must support a person's entire body weight for perhaps as long as a minute. Two teammates hold onto opposite ends of a pole and the competitor hooks her wrist over it, grasps her forearm with her other hand, tucks up her feet and is lifted by her teammates, who carry her for as long as she can hang on. Whoever travels the farthest wins.


Thursday's winners, both from Dillingham, made multiple trips around the course, which measured about 200 feet.

Justin Dye hung on for more than three laps, going 672 feet, 5.25 inches, to crush the boys competition. Teammate Britney Dray went 395-3 to top the girls.

Dye's effort was dominant. He was more than 230 feet better than anyone else and was about 60 feet short of the NYO boys record of 730-6, set by Mat-Su's Joshua Hughes in 2014.

Annogiyuk didn't finish in the top five but he made the event look effortless as he traveled a full lap around the course. He gazed around the arena as he hung from the pole, turning his head as he checked things out.

"Just taking in the scene," he said.

Kell didn't make a full lap before losing her grip and spilling onto the floor (which can also hurt, she noted). When she let loose of the pole, she felt something snap in her wrist, maybe a tendon, she speculated.

"I used to be able to go all the way around, but because of my wrist I can't anymore," Kell said.

The three-day Native Youth Olympics is an annual competition that inflicts pain on high school-aged athletes from all over Alaska while also teaching them about Native culture. Kids test their strength, agility, athleticism and tolerance to pain in time-honored events like the two-foot high kick, the stick pull and the scissors broad jump.

In Thursday's Alaskan high kick — an upside-down event in which a competitor does a one-handed handstand and uses his foot to touch a ball suspended over his head — Calvin Egoak and Mikayla Kassaiuli of the Lower Kuskokwim School District claimed victories.

Egoak and Axel Tretikoff of Anchorage both reached 88 inches in the boys competition, but Egoak won because he had one miss and Tretikoff had two. Kassaiuli kicked 69 inches in the girls competition.

In the kneel jump, which required athletes to launch forward from a kneeling position, titles went to Jean Krause of Dillingham and Wilton Charles of Toksook Bay.

Charles, 18, defended his title with a jump of 61.5 inches, a few inches shy of the record of 67 inches set in 2013 by Unalaska's Dylan Magnusen. Charles won last year with a jump of 64.25 inches, and he said he was hoping to exceed that mark this time.

"My goal was 65," he said. "I really wanted to do better (but) I'm happy with what I got. To repeat was the ultimate goal."

Charles spoke while waiting for the wrist carry to begin. He and Arnold Phillip of Kwigillingok talked about doing pullups and working their core muscles as training for the wrist carry. The event requires strength, but tolerance to pain is key too, they said.

"It's really painful right here," Charles said, pointing to the pulse point on his right wrist. "It blisters."

Charles and Phillip are rivals during the basketball season but teammates on the Lower Kuskokwim School District's Native Youth Olympics team for this week's three-day event.

As is the tradition in Native sports, athletes share tips and offer constructive criticism even when they are competing against each other, and so Charles and Phillip have helped each other improve over the years.


"He teaches me some of the techniques in the Alaska high kick and two-foot kick," Phillip said.

"When I do something wrong," Charles said, "he shows me what I'm doing wrong."

They can't imagine the same give-and-take happening in basketball.

"NYO is pretty much for culture, and culture teaches us that everyone helps each other at NYO," Charles said. "No matter where it is or where they're from, everyone's family."

Girls kneel jump — 1. Jean Krause, Dillingham, 45 inches; 2. Alexandria Ivanoff, Bering Strait, 43.5; 3. Tezlyn Kerron, Mat-Su, 43-0; 4. Rissa Bucaneg, Unalaska, 43-0; 5. Emily Pomerenke, Nome, 42.5.

Boys kneel jump — 1. Wilton Charles, LKSD, 61.5; 2. Daniel Peters, Unalaska, 61; 3. Tim Meyer, Mat-Su, 56; 4. Edward Nick, SWRSD, 54.75; 5. Justin Dye, Dillingham, 54.

Girls wrist carry — 1. Britney Dray, Dillingham, 395-3; 2. Lorraine Gregory, Anchorage, 304-7.25; 3. Lisa Tran, Unalaska, 242-4.75; 4. Kelsie Madson, Bethel 223-6.5; 5. Erin Staricha, Mat-Su, 211-3.25.

Boys wrist carry — 1. Justin Dye, Dillingham, 672-5.25; 2. Tremaine Davis, Mat-Su, 435-2.5; 3. Thomas Dyment, Bethel, 434-9.5; 4. Harberg Paul, LKSD, 404-11.5; 5. Trevor Soik, Mat-Su, 383-11.75.


Girls Alaskan high kick — 1) Mikayla Kassaiuli, LKSD, 69 inches; 2) tie,  Camille Bernard, Mat-Su, and Misty May Wilmarth-Agoff, Chickaloon, 68; 4) Britney Dray, Dillingham, 66; 5) Jo Beth Stuart, Bethel, 65.

Boys Alaskan high kick — 1) Calvin Egoak, LKSD, 88 (1 miss);
2) Axel Tretikoff, Anchorage, 88 (2 misses); 3) John Villena, Unalaska, 87; 4) Justin Ward, Aniak, 86; 5) Arctic Ivanoff, BSSD, 86.

Friday's events

10 a.m. — Eskimo stick pull

1 p.m. — Scissor broad jump

3:30 p.m. — One-hand reach

5:30 p.m. — Two-foot high kick

Saturday's events

10 a.m. — Indian stick pull

12:30 p.m. — One-foot high kick

3 p.m. — Seal hop

5:30 p.m. — Closing ceremonies

Beth Bragg

Beth Bragg wrote about sports and other topics for the ADN for more than 35 years, much of it as sports editor. She retired in October 2021. She's contributing coverage of Alaskans involved in the 2022 Winter Olympics.