Wrestling with pride and determination

by Darrell Greer- January 31, 2018

Arviat wrestlers put in a strong showing at the 2018 Nunavut wrestling territorials in Iqaluit earlier this month.

Arviat is well represented on Nunavut’s amateur wrestling scene with athletes such as Michael Illnik, Matthew Iblauk, Natalie Baker and Sylvia Kablutsiak, from left, taking to the mat at the 2018 territorials in Iqaluit on Jan. 20. photo courtesy of Andrew Fawcett

The Jan. 20 gathering was also used as a selection camp for the upcoming 2018 Arctic Winter Games (AWG) in Hay River and Fort Smith, NWT.

Arviat was represented at the territorial by Sylvia Kablutsiak, Natalie Baker, Michael Illnik and Matthew Iblauk, with Kablutsiak striking gold, and both Baker and Illnik taking silver at the event.

The Arviat grapplers are being trained locally by third-year coach Patricia Luciani and first-year coach Andrew Fawcett.

Luciani said this year’s territorial was one of the stronger years for its overall talent level, especially among female wrestlers.

She said Baker had the most matches in her 60 to 65 kilo weight class than she’s had in quite awhile.

“There’s only been about three people in the pools during past years, but this year there were six,” said Luciani.

“They were from all different communities, so it was just awesome to see wrestling growing like that.

“I like it because it’s an individual sport, so all someone needs is a small group of people to be really passionate about it and they can go far.

“I got involved when Shelby Angalik was in her Grade 12 year here in Arviat and needed someone to coach her because she wanted to continue going to the AWG, so I stepped up and we kind of recruited Sylvia (Kablutsiak), who was in Grade 9, to the team, and she’s in Grade 11 now and has been with the team ever since.”

Fawcett, who comes from a football background, said the camaraderie levels were quite high in Iqaluit.

He said he was impressed with how the wrestlers were brought closer together to help each other out with their efforts.

“I really thought it was great how they gathered the wrestlers together on the Friday (Jan. 19) and had them, basically, training together,” said Fawcett.

“So, by Saturday, they were friendly competitors with lots of handshakes, encouragement and cheering on from the crowd in general.

“It was a great scene.”

While Baker will be making her first appearance at the AWG, 2018 will be Kablutsiak’s second, making her the experienced veteran on the female team.

Luciani said Kablutsiak captured bronze at her first AWG in 2016, but it won’t be any easy road in Hay River to improve upon that performance.

“It’s a tough competition because we’re competing against the Northern Alberta team, and Alaska always puts-in a strong team, so the matches are tight.

“But Sylvia has some experience and, at her previous AWG, she might have lost her matches, but she was able to score points against her opponent, which was just fantastic.

“We always seem to do well at the AWG in the Inuit-style wrestling, especially with the men’s team, and we’ve always managed to come away with at least a couple of medals.”

Fawcett said he likes the resilience he’s seen in the wrestlers he and Luciani have worked with in Arviat.

He said they stay very positive-minded, no matter if their match was a win or a loss.

“That positive approach reminds me of athletes I’ve worked with in my time, whether here in Nunavut or in Ottawa, where I’m from.

“They’re always ready to train and learn with smiles on their faces, so I really like the determination I see from them.

“We have solid support in the community and I’d like to send a quick shout of thanks to Olivia Tagalik here in Arviat.

“She acted as a chaperone, cheered enthusiastically and was always quick to help our team, whether that meant helping with travel arrangements or taping up sore fingers.”

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