Arctic sports aren’t a pastime for Andrew Bell.
They’re a lifestyle.
He devotes eight to 10 hours per week to training during the “off season” – a number that climbs as high as 18 hours weekly when competition is getting closer.
“I put a lot of time, a lot of training into my approach… and this has been ongoing for many, many years,” he says.
But it doesn’t stop there. He frequently reads about training techniques to improve his athletic ability, and he watches his diet carefully. For the last Arctic Winter Games (AWG) held in the Northwest Territories’ South Slave region in March, Bell slimmed down to 177 pounds from his normal 185-pound physique.
“Those five to seven pounds, believe it or not, make a big difference,” he says of his need to hurl his body through the air in various events.
His dedication paid off. Bell achieved a personal best while competing in the two-foot high kick at the AWG in Fort Smith, reaching a towering 2.54 metres. But it wasn’t good enough to win. Alaska’s Andrew Christopher Kashevarof turned in a 2.59-metre effort and earned the gold ulu.
“That really gave me more motivation to want to improve more. I have put so much into training because it’s what I like to do,” Bell says, adding that he’s eyeing the 2.64-metre two-foot high kick record.
Chasing down that record will likely be an uphill battle. While Kashevarof, at 20, hasn’t even yet entered his athletic prime, Bell, at 33, is starting to notice the effects of Father Time.
“I can feel the changes in my body since about the age of 29. It’s taking longer to recover. It’s easier to get an injury,” he says. “My window of opportunity is pretty small now. If I don’t do something in the next couple of years…”
So he’s seeking ways to wring that extra 10 cm out of his performance by the time the 2020 Games in Whitehorse roll around. That has led him to the possibility of training with “strength shoes,” which have a weighted platform.
“I don’t know if they work or not,” he says. “If that’s a method that could help me get a little bit farther, that would be great.”
Bell didn’t leave the 2018 AWG – his fourth time competing at that level – without setting an event record himself. He pushed the Games’ best mark in the open male one-hand reach event to 170.2 cm.
He also remains the holder of the AWG triple jump record at 11.49 metres, which he set at the Games in Nuuk, Greenland, in 2016. He says that remains his most satisfying Arctic sports accomplishment to date.
Bell, who grew up in Nova Scotia, got his start in Arctic sports in 2011 while living in Kugluktuk. Although reluctant at first, he tried some events and found that the skills required were compatible with his athletic abilities and his background in track and field, particularly the explosiveness of the triple jump and the two-foot high kick.
He moved from Kugluktuk to Arviat in 2012, and still lives there today.
“It’s my home now,” he says of Nunavut.
What Bell hasn’t found yet is any proteges.
“I’ve made an effort to reach out to the youth, to hold practices here in Arviat and pass along some of the techniques that have worked for me that might work for them. It lasted two weeks and then there’s other interests,” he says.