Veronica McDonald with a fair play award at the 2023 Arctic Winter Games in Wood Buffalo. Ollie Williams/Team NT
Veronica McDonald returns to the NWT from the Wood Buffalo Arctic Winter Games with ulus from six individual events – and a total that she now estimates at 36 for her career.
She “stopped counting at 19,” the 28-year-old said last week as Arctic Sports events came to a close in Fort McMurray. McDonald won four of her seven events, missing the podium only in one-foot high kick.
If her estimate is accurate, her 36-ulu haul means she has surpassed the total number of Arctic Winter Games medals won by her mother, Meika, over the course of 10 editions of the games. (Unlike most sports at the games, Arctic Sports has no age cut-off.)
According to her entry in the NWT Sport Hall of Fame, Meika McDonald won 34 ulus – 14 gold, 11 silver and nine bronze – in Arctic Winter Games held between 1988 and 2006.
Daughter Veronica’s results came despite this being a transitional year.
This was her eighth Arctic Winter Games – she competed in her first in 2004, having just turned nine – but pandemic-related delays meant five years had passed since her last chance to compete, in her home town of Fort Smith in 2018.
McDonald has used that time to develop into more of a coach than an athlete. Even if the results don’t suggest it, she says her focus in Fort McMurray was on the rest of her team.
“I took the focus off myself,” she said. “It’s been almost relaxed. Usually I’m a bit more tense and nervous coming into competition.”
Below, read our interview with McDonald as last week’s contest wrapped up.
This interview was recorded on February 3, 2023. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ollie Williams: How does this Arctic Winter Games compare to the rest of your career?
Veronica McDonald: It’s been very lax, if that’s a good way to describe it. I came here as basically an unofficial coach, right? I spent a lot of my time preparing for this by coaching. I took the focus off myself and I kind-of put more into my kids, trying to teach them. It’s like a second job, you know? You spend a lot of your energy into them, and so it takes away from you and your own learning as well.
That hasn’t really shown in your results. There was one event in which you didn’t get a medal.
I got top five! I mean, if I were to be completely honest, one-foot high kick is never my strongest event. It’s everybody else’s but not mine, by any means. I was actually thinking about it. I don’t think there’s one year in my eight years I’ve gone to Arctic Winter Games where I’ve medalled in one-foot. And sledge jump, up until this year. But yeah, it’s been really almost relaxed a little bit. Usually, I’m a bit more tense and nervous coming into competition. But I think this year, just trying to take the focus off me kind-of alleviated the pressure a little bit. But
During the past five years, it sounds like you’ve crossed into a new stage. Rather than being a nervous athlete, are you now more worried about the rest of your team?
I mean, I’m always worried about my team and how they do. I’ve always been like that. It’s different when you are coach and you’re passing on your knowledge to the younger athletes, and you want to see them succeed, and you want to see all your guys’ hard work that you put into it being implemented. I feel like I’m more aware of my abilities and what I’m able to do. And yeah, essentially, I did focus more on my kids and making sure that they had a positive experience. I really want more people to enjoy it and come together in this sport because it’s amazing. It’s a great atmosphere and I want more people to see what I see.
Who counts as “my kids” on the team?
Well, my kids were my kids for a long time [at her Arctic Sports club] up until 2020. We were training three times a week up until 2020. Everybody in my Arctic Sports group made Team NT for the 2020 games, and then they were cancelled. Danica and Dawson were my two athletes that followed me from 2020 to 2023. It’s been really rewarding watching them enjoy the sport and finally see what I see in it. It’s been fun.
You were in a final against Danica [Taylor], weren’t you, in arm pull?
We were also the last two competitors in two-foot high kick. I ended up winning that one, just consistency. And then yeah, we were the two finalists in arm pull as well. I told her: “It’s you and I in the final, there’s nobody else.” And we don’t really practise arm pull. I think we did like a 20-minute session in the locker room here.
She was really nervous going into the games and I’m very relaxed going into it. I’m trying to teach her that as you have more experience, it becomes a little bit easier, right? Going into it, I had to give little tips here and there. Coming up against her in the final was really fun. It was really surprising for her but I knew she could do it. I knew she wouldn’t beat me, but…
Are you just going to keep coming to Arctic Winter Games for the rest of your life?
I still want to inspire. You have to make the team – I don’t just get an automatic spot on the team. I have to earn my position, right? So I’m going to continue to do it as much as possible.