Nemaska Fitness Challenge 2009

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Imagine how well our grandfathers would have done in Nemaska’s Fitness Challenge. They were able to paddle for miles a day, portage over hills and valleys, swim across fast rivers and rush lengths across their hunting grounds in snowshoes and still have enough energy to father children. They might have had trouble with those newfangled bicycles in the beginning, but the lead they could have gained with their traditional skills and stamina might have rendered the one modern leg of this challenge null and void.

Many of the teams and competitors know this about the iron men and women of old. Which is why Elders like Nemaska’s Isabel Wapachee and Charlie Blackned are recruited to compete in the team relays. Wapachee, 66 years young, beat women young enough to be her granddaughters with a time of 15 minutes, 35 seconds, almost five minutes ahead of the second place canoeist. The 64-year-old Blackned finished with a respectable third place in his canoe.

Over the past 14 years many obstacles have stood in the way of Cree athletes from competing in this annual competition. Amongst them, lack of training, no athletic ability, alcohol, obesity, cuts and bruises, age, penury, mental capacity, pouring rain, searing heat and lack of equipment – and this summer, the swine flu. Yet, they still come year in, year out.

And every summer a handful of spectators promise, threaten, declare and joke that next year, next year, they will take on the challenge of swimming, biking, portaging, canoeing and running miles through beautiful Nemaska.

One question remains: How would this year’s fastest Cree, Reginald Blackned of Waskaganish, have fared against Grandpa Blackned?

Pictures of the event

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