Mackenzie Mountain School students in Norman Wells begin training for track and field events in September, even though the NWT’s territorial meet isn’t held until the beginning of June.

One of those athletes is 13-year-old Haley Cassie, who holds NWT records in varying 400m, 800m, 1000m, and 1500m races – even though this is only her third year competing.

When asked if there was one race in particular she was proud of, she replied: “I’d have to say all of them.”

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Training in Norman Wells comes with a unique set of challenges.

“We can’t train outside because there are no paved roads, so it’s harder to get the feel of the outdoors,” Haley said. To compensate for the lack of wind, she has to set the treadmill on an incline.

And although she wakes up at 6:45am every morning to train indoors, she finds she’s at her best during the annual NWT Track and Field Championships, which are held outdoors in Hay River.

This year, she has already set new records in the bantam girls’ second year 1500m (beating the previous record by nearly 22 seconds with a time of 5:20:00) and in the 800m.

‘It’s the coaching’

Her father, Harry Cassie, who is also the team’s coach, echoed the challenge presented by a lack of training facilities.

“It’s a little tough, but we make the best of it,” he said, explaining that he keeps track practices in the school gym fun by mixing up serious sessions with dancing and games.

“You have to keep the kids interested otherwise they will lose focus. If it’s too regimented, kids shy away from that,” explained Harry, himself a former track athlete. He says while working with athletes of all ages indoors after school is tough, he believes it’s important to give the town’s youth something to do after school.

As a result, the team has more than doubled in size over the last three years. In 2016, the school only sent five students to the meet in Hay River. This year, they sent 13.

“I think it’s the coaching,” he joked.

That, and the additional incentive that if they fundraise enough, the team will be able to attend the Last Chance indoor track and field meet in Edmonton this fall.