Veronica McDonald established the Yellowknife Arctic Sports Club just last year and started coaching its handful of athletes.
But the 25-year-old, who has participated in the Arctic Winter Games seven times, said she’s been coaching others for a couple of decades now.
“I’ve been competing in these games since I was five years old,” said McDonald, a member of Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation in Alberta who lives in Yellowknife.
“In these games you are taught to offer encouragement and to help others.”
In part because she launched her own club last year, McDonald has been chosen as the female recipient of the National Indigenous Coaching Award.
The Aboriginal Sport Circle, the national governing body for Indigenous sports in Canada, annually selects female and male recipients.
Winners are celebrated for demonstrating outstanding contributions to Indigenous sport in Canada.
Richard Pellissier-Lush, a football coach from the Lennox Island First Nation in Prince Edward Island, was chosen as the top male coach this year.
Both McDonald and Pellissier-Lush were recognized for their efforts at a gala staged by the Coaching Association of Canada this past week.
“It just means all my hard work I put into my sport and my athletes is being recognized,” McDonald said. “You pass on your knowledge to future generations. To be recognized for that is amazing.”
During her career, McDonald racked up 28 medals at various Arctic Winter Games.
She was also scheduled to compete at the 2020 event in Whitehorse this past March, but that event was cancelled because of the pandemic.
All four athletes at McDonald’s Yellowknife club also qualified to compete.
‘Figuring out logistics’ during pandemic
Besides her numerous medals from previous championships, McDonald continues to hold a pair of Arctic Winter Games records.
She established a record in the junior women’s (17 and under) kneel jump at the 2012 event held in Whitehorse.
From a kneeling position, competitors are judged on how far they can jump onto their feet while retaining balance.
McDonald set her second record in Fort Smith at the 2018 Arctic Winter Games’ women’s open triple jump event. She was also the final torchbearer for the opening ceremony of those Games.
Besides the kneel jump, McDonald considers the Alaskan high jump one of her favourite events.
A participant starts in a sitting position, balances on one leg, then kicks a target above their head with the other leg. The target moves higher in subsequent rounds until a winner is declared.
The pandemic not only cancelled this year’s Arctic Winter Games but also put McDonald’s coaching career on hold.
She is working to stage one-on-one sessions with athletes.
“There’s just a lot of figuring out logistics,” she said. “There are regulations that need to be followed and safety waivers must be signed.”
McDonald is hoping her club will attract many new members, especially younger ones.
“I started when I was five,” she said. “Ideally I’d like to start with others at that age.”
As award winners, McDonald and Pellissier-Lush will each receive a $1,500 bursary for coach development.