The Native Youth Olympics carry a special significance for Colton Paul.
The 18-year-old who competes for Mt. Edgecumbe was introduced to the various disciplines by his older brother, Kobe.
When Kobe died in 2017, the competition took on a greater meaning for Colton — it’s a way for him to maintain a connection with his brother.
“He taught me the one-foot (high) kick, the Alaskan high kick, the one-arm reach, everything,” he said. “He taught me the values and I’m thankful he gave that to me ... He’s the one that keeps this thing burning in me.”
Colton was in second grade when he started learning the various events and his brother was five years older.
Kobe appreciated the cultural significance of the games, something that’s also important to Colton.
“These games are really important to me,” he said. “It helps me express my identity. It gives me a sense of belonging and that I have value in this world. It gives me a space to express myself. It’s just everything to me.”
While some athletes might enter NYO as a pastime during the offseason for other sports, Colton puts it first. He also competes in cross country and wrestling, but only to stay fit for Native games.
Colton has been a contender at nearly every competition he’s attended in recent years and kicked off Thursday with a win in the kneel jump.
In the kneel jump, he said he visualizes his estimated landing zone with his own height as a gauge. At 5-foot-10, he’s 70 inches and shoots for that distance. He came up a bit short at 66 3/4.
“I’ll try to pass that or get around that area,” he said of the distance.
Despite it being his least favorite event at NYO, it was still close to a state record. Paul took his second title Thursday evening in the Alaskan high kick, reaching 92 inches.
Over the winter, Colton was at the Arctic Winter Games in Canada, where he earned five golden ulus, and he also competed in Juneau earlier this month. That means a lot of training, and he has specific routines for each event, including kneel jump.
“I like to get some plyometric workouts,” he said. “Sometimes I like to get a weighted vest and just do a broad jump across as far as I can and as high as I can to get the explosiveness. Sprinting helps too.”
Nikki Erick’s secret training tool for the kneel jump was simply to wear down her legs until she couldn’t take any more. The strength and endurance she built helped her to a win in the girls division with a distance of 44 inches.
“I keep jumping until my legs are tired,” said Erick, who was competing for the Lower Kuskokwim School District. “I didn’t know I was going to go this far.”
In the girls wrist carry event, Mya Campbell had a very specific strategy for blocking out the pain — singing a song.
“I hope for the best,” she said. “I was singing a song in my head. I don’t normally do that but I was like, ‘You know, I’m just going to close my eyes and sing a song this time.’ "
Her tune of choice was “Into the Unknown,” the Oscar-nominated hit from “Frozen II.” Her plan worked, as she won the event with a distance of 205 feet, 1 1/4 inches.
“I forgot about it halfway through, but I was like ‘Let’s not focus on my wrist,’ " joked Campbell, who competes for a Mat-Su team. Another Mat-Su athlete, Caelyn Carter, won the girls Alaskan high kick, reaching 70 inches.
Ethan Jenkin of Dillingham was the winner of the boys wrist carry, traveling 560 feet, 8 and 3/4 inches.