Whenever Ian McDonald tells someone he plays beach volleyball for Nunavut, he tends to refer to the Jamaican bobsled team from the 1993 movie. Cool races.
“Honestly, it’s pretty accurate — except, like, a bit of the opposite,” McDonald, 22, said. As it happens guest host Paul Hunter.
“We come from the North, we play hot [weather]as they came from hot Jamaica and played ice sports.”
McDonald is one of four athletes representing Nunavut in beach volleyball for the first time at the Canada Summer Games in Niagara, Ont., along with male partner Aiden Anawak and female team members Shawna Kyak and Talia Grant.
“A lot of people back home are extremely surprised because we don’t have beaches to play on, and no one would have ever thought Nunavut would have a beach volleyball team,” he said. .
“Everyone asks where we train or how we train, because they always think we live in ice and snow during the summer, you know?”
From a gymnasium in Iqaluit to the hot sands of British Columbia
While Nunavut is certainly not winter and icy all the time, it is noticeably cooler than, say, Ontario in August. And while there is a beach outside of Iqaluit, conditions aren’t ideal for play.
“We tried to play on our beach, but it was a bit dangerous because it’s kind of a gathering place for people who like to have bonfires and so on,” McDonald said. “So there’s wood all over the sand, nails all over the sand, and glass.”
That means the team, which formed in 2019, mostly trained at a gymnasium in Iqaluit.
But in preparation for the Games, they spent their summer traveling and training in the sand – first a week in Halifax, then two and a half weeks in Kelowna, British Columbia.
“It was very difficult at the beginning, like running in the sand, not to mention the sun, like the heat,” said Kyak, 21, of the women’s team. “My feet [took] a big toll at first. The sun is not very forgiving.”
But they kept going, Kyak said, and now she feels quite comfortable on the sand.
She says she hopes to continue playing beach volleyball after the Games are over. She will also represent her territory at the Summer Games next week in indoor volleyball.
In fact, the entire team, including assistant coach Jonah Oolayou, is familiar with indoor volleyball, a six-on-six game very popular in Canadian territories. But the young athletes had to work hard to make the switch to two-on-two beach volleyball.
“I think they’re well prepared. They’ve done a lot of pre-game prep work and, you know, they’re ready to go,” Oolayou said.
“[Nobody’s] I’ve never seen Nunavut on those beach courts at those Canada Games, so there’s a lot of attention around our kids right now. »
“They are here to fight”
Both teams have had their ups and downs so far.
The women’s team lost to Prince Edward Island on Monday before turning things around and defeating the Yukon. They started strong against Newfoundland and Labrador on Tuesday, winning their opening set but losing the game overall.
The men’s team lost to Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan on Monday, then turned the tables to claim victory Tuesday by beating Yukon. They will face the Northwest Territories on Tuesday night, and Oolayou says they have a good chance of winning among the three territories.
No matter what, he is honored to represent Nunavut on the national stage.
“Whatever the sport, we are proud of our athletes because they are there and they are there to fight,” he said.
McDonald’s agrees, and he has a message for people back home: “Think about it, do your best, and…anything is possible.”
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Ian McDonald directed by Samraweet Yohannes.
Nunavut’s first beach volleyball team hits the sand at Canada Summer Games | Radio Canada