Equal parts tenacity and technique, the wrist carry is a crowd favorite at the Native Youth Olympics

Equal parts tenacity and technique, the wrist carry is one of the most electric events at the Native Youth Olympics, a fan favorite that elicits increasing roars from the crowd as the teams race around the track.

Each team is made up of three people: Two carry a 4-foot pole between them, racing around a short oval track. The most difficult job on the team belongs to the third member, the rider who puts the wrist in the wrist carry.

From a seated position, they wrap the wrist of their strong hand over the top of the pole’s middle section, using it as a leverage point to keep them up. The rider then uses their other hand to grasp their forearm, giving extra support. From that point, the carriers lift up and race as far as they can until the rider can no longer hang on by their wrist and falls to the floor.

Like most games at NYO, the event has roots in traditions. It was played to help develop the skills and strength for hunters to carry heavy loads back home.

On the opening day of NYO on Thursday, a number of the state’s best showed off their skills in the event, in some cases using a combination of strength and determination to complete two full laps.

The event is an almost perfect blend of physical and mental challenges. While the wrist is clearly the focus, core strength may be just as important. Competitors often tuck their legs so they won’t hit the ground until the last possible second.

“That really keeps you up,” said 14-year-old Gunnar Davis, who competes for the Native Village of Eyak. “You just can’t think of the pain. You just have to keep going and breathe.”


For 15-year-old Aidan Crow, who competes for Bethel, the support from his off hand is what he focuses on.

“(The key is) holding onto my wrist with my left hand,” he said. “I pull up with my right wrist and I try to squeeze it as hard as I can. It sometimes sweats, so you have to grasp it harder as you go.”

And then there is the mental side, which elicits creativity from competitors trying to hone their focus. Some competitors try to block everything out while others focus on a single thing. For some, the roar of the crowd is the payoff.

“You get a lot of adrenaline doing it,” said 14-year-old Kamryn Petito of the Mat-Su team. “As soon as you go, you hear everyone cheering for you, and it’s just really cool.”

Eulalia Roman of the Mat-Su team is only 12, but she’s been competing in the event since she was a first grader.

That’s given her plenty of time for experimentation, including one state-winning performance where she imagined that she was riding a shark. In the end, she said she’s found that trying to block everything out is her preferred method.

“You just have to learn to endure it,” she said. “You just kind of go. You just hook your wrist on and you go as long as you can. All the muscles in your body are working.”

Like a runner with headphones on, many competitors have music in their heads that they use to remove themselves from the reality of the situation.

“I just go with the rhythm of the feet,” Crow said. “As the carriers are hitting the ground I just think of a song.”

Stability from the carriers is also a major factor in a good run, and a bad start can derail even the best teams. While most competitors said being lighter was an advantage, strength and even height can be important for the carriers.

But even more critical than physical attributes, they have to be a cohesive unit. Sivulaq Samuel Meghan, 18, and Panruq Justin Forbes, 17, were part of the Anchorage team that carried 16-year-old Dorothy Bad Warrior-Johnson.

They said they practice by running around the gym holding onto the pole to sync up their movements. The two were teammates in football, which gave them a built-in advantage.

“We kind of ran the same, we were both in football and we know each other’s speeds pretty well,” Meghan said. “At first we started really slow to get that comfortable flow going, you build it up and once you hit those corners, you speed up.”

Most runs end in a hard fall to the ground, so Petito said trusting your carriers is vital. When she can tell she’s about to slip, she tries to make it to the next corner to grind out a few more feet.

With their football background, strength wasn’t an issue for Meghan and Forbes, but more traits are key to a successful team.

“Being stable, fast and adaptable to what your partners are doing,” Meghan said.

Paul Paul, who is from Kipnuk and coaches the Lower Kuskokwim team, said many of the skills are still directly adapted from activities and duties associated with village life in Western Alaska.


“You still have to learn to do that,” he said. “It spills out to many things. If you’re taking out a seal, you have to carry it in a similar way and even moose. You have to be strong to do that.”

The longest effort of the day came from Unalaska’s Nick Luois Amora, who went 472 feet. Crow of Bethel had a fine effort, finishing in fourth.

Roman and Petito were the top two finishers in the girls division on Thursday, both going over 360 feet. While there are some bumps and bruises along the way, the competitors said the reward of a strong finish is worth it.

“When I first started, I knew there was going to be some pain, but I was more satisfied by it than anything,” Roman said.

Chris Bieri

Chris Bieri is the sports and entertainment editor at the Anchorage Daily News.