Dozens of people came from Mistissini and other communities to participate in the 11th annual Mistissini Fitness Challenge, held July 23-24.
Organized by Mistissini Sports and Recreation, the event featured individual races across different age categories on Day One, while Day Two featured team relays involving swimming, cycling and running in the youth categories, while adding canoeing and portage challenges in the 16+ categories.
At least 23 participants competed in the individual events, while 16 teams of 60 participants competed on Day Two. Laurie Mathieu won the women’s competitive 16+ race, while Dave Jobin came in first for the men’s, each taking home a prize of $1,500.
In the women’s 16+ relay, Team Miranda took home first, comprised of Audreanne Bouchard, Joannie Guilemette, Shayna Dominique, Trisha Gunner and Laurie Mathieu. In first for men’s was Team Go Habs Go, comprised of Caleb Awashish, Dave Jobin, Silas Neeposh, Louie Mianscum and Wally Rabbitskin. Both teams took home a prize of $2,000.
“It was a success this year,” said organizer Helen Gunner, the Sports and Recreation Interim Coordinator. She said participation was a struggle compared to last year, but in the end, they got more participants than last year.
While the event is open to anyone, and some competitors came from Chibougamau, Gunner said she would like to see the entire Cree Nation get involved. “It would be nice to have other communities hosting these events because it promotes health and keeps youth off the streets,” she said.
The event is one of the biggest that the Sports and Recreation department puts on, giving out over $33,000 in cash prizes, plus additional spending on trophies and souvenirs.
To encourage more participation, this year the organizers removed the requirement that at least two participants or teams competing in a category to assign a winner. “We don’t want to close the door on them especially if they prepare all summer for it, so we’re trying to make it reasonable with the athletes,” Gunner said.
Four of Mistissini’s first responders staffed an ambulance, going out with a lifeguard in a boat on the lake, and escorted the competitors through town. “We enjoy being part of it as well when we’re asked to work during that time – it’s for the safety of participants,” said First Responder Coordinator Mary Mattawashish.
Mattawashish said they see people becoming interested in becoming first responders after these kinds of events, which involves an application, background check, followed by an eight-day training. While they haven’t held many trainings during the pandemic, they’re starting to come back now.
Louie Mianscum has been racing since the late 1990s, and now works in the Sports and Recreation department as a minor sports assistant. This year he helped to train athletes, while also competing – coming in third place in the men’s competitive category.
Mianscum said he got hooked on being active and training for races. “I used to be over 300 pounds before I started training. Just going up the stairs was hard work, or staying outside on a hot day,” he said. “I didn’t like that. Now I’m enjoying life because I’m active again.
“I used to be a good runner, but now I don’t have a lot of strength. I guess you can say I’m average on all five events,” he added with a laugh. “I like the part of just being active, training for races. You start to feel the effects of training – it helps you in your daily life and you sleep better. You almost feel like you can do anything.”
Mianscum prepared athletes for cycling by helping them know what they would confront on the course and helped others who weren’t as strong with canoeing. “Some of them are good at swimming, others good at running. It takes more than a year to really prepare for the competitive category,” he added.
He’s also inspired by the athletic abilities of community members. “I’m really happy to see the outcome, especially seeing new athletes,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to get motivated, especially after the last few years and what’s happened with the pandemic.”
Still, Mianscum is encouraged to see new swimming pools open in Cree communities, since it can be hard to train in the cold lakes and rivers scattered across Eeyou Istchee.
“I’ll be there next year as a 50-year-old, if anyone wants to challenge me!”
Benjamin Powless, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nation