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Indigenous athletes ready to roll

With the official beginning of the Tokyo Olympics Games starting tomorrow, Indigenous athletes worldwide prepare for this unique experience, following a particularly difficult training period.

This year, the Canadian Women’s hammer throw team includes a motivated Kanien’kehá:ka athlete named Jillian Weir. “To represent the Mohawk people at the Olympics is a great honour,” said the athlete. “I believe my Indigenous background has instilled strength and courage in me to keep pushing myself to be a better athlete and person.”

Ever since she was in elementary school, Weir dreamt of becoming an Olympian. Although the athlete was confident that she would qualify for Tokyo, she narrowly missed her shot for Rio in 2016.

This setback only encouraged her to continue pushing, with no doubt in her mind that she would make her next shot. “I was able to stay focused and motivated because of my drive to succeed. I have always been determined to keep pushing until I have achieved my goals.”

Ever since Weir was a young child, she was extremely athletic. Whether it was water polo, softball, or basketball, she was a natural for many different sports. She didn’t start specializing in track and field until she started university, and when she first tried hammer throw, everything fell into place.

She began improving significantly and is now ready to show off her skills at this year’s Olympics. With her eye on the prize after hearing about her qualifications on July 3, she felt both relieved and excited. Weir is continually grateful for her family, friends and coaches as well as outside supporters. “I am far from a famous athlete, but getting recognition from strangers is always nice to know that more people are supporting and rooting for me.”

In Kahnawake, Mark (Nipper) Granger heads to Tokyo, coaching the Canadian Women’s Canoe Team, making this his fifth visit to the games. Although Granger is a well-seasoned veteran, this is the first time his team is included in this international event.

Despite their success, this year has been brought on challenges he did not expect. The coach explained because the team hasn’t competed for two years, data collection for competitors is sparse. “We know there are some athletes who really progressed, but we don’t know how much,” he said. “We will only know in Tokyo during the heats.”

Granger explains that paddling typically comes naturally to Onkwehón:we. “They adapt very quickly,” he said. “I also found that they have great skills and a fearless attitude for competition. It helps that they love the natural settings of being on the water and the freedom you get when paddling.”

This year, our neighbour down-under, Wonnatrua Brandon Wakeling, will represent Australia as a weightlifter this upcoming week. Wakeling is the first Indigenous Olympic weightlifter that has competed for Australia in 20 years. As a prior Rugby star, he started weightlifting in 2015. “I was very involved in regular gym training at the time and even loved it more so than playing my sport,” he said.

“I had a friend mention they were going to try this ‘Olympic weightlifting thing out, and I thought I’d come along to try. I loved it from the first-ever session, and the rest is history.”

Since he was five years old, Wakeling, similar to Weir, knew he wanted to be an Olympian. For Wakeling, taking control of your future is of the utmost importance.

“Follow your dreams. Even though not many have walked down this path as an Indigenous person, and it may seem daunting, it is well worth it in the end.”

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