It’s one thing to make fitness in the communities of the Cree Nation a priority. It’s another thing to make it competitive, which is what Mistissini’s Sports and Recreation Department attempted to do with its third annual Mistissini Fitness Challenge July 12-13.
This year the competition featured over 40 adult competitors, as well as a wide variety of junior (aged 15 to 17), youth (12-14) and children (8-11) participants, vying for a total of over $25,000 in cash prizes and awards.
“We made it invitational,” said Helen Gunner of the Sports and Recreation Department. “It’s open to Natives and non-Natives.”
She explained that Mistissini watched as the Nemaska Fitness Challenge drew strong numbers of participants, and decided to replicate the event at home.
“Even though it’s open to everyone, we only got a few people from Chibougaumau and Nemaska,” Gunner said, noting that the majority of participants were Mistissini residents.
Entrants could participate as individuals or as part of relay teams. Over two days, the contest featured five events: swimming, cycling and running for all – plus, for adult teams only, canoeing and portaging. The most challenging contest was the Men’s Competitive, in which participants had to run 10 km, paddle 2 km, portage 1 km, cycle 20 km, and swim 1 km.
“It’s not easy to do,” Gunner said about the Men’s Competitive. “You need to train well for that. The winner is the fastest.”
It was followed in difficulty by the Women’s Competitive, which slightly reduced the target distances for every event but swimming, and then by Adult Recreational and the Junior, Youth, and Children’s events, which were each adjusted to the abilities of their competitors’ age groups.
“The goal is really to encourage health and fitness,” Gunner said about the purpose of the competition. She notes that in Mistissini, like everywhere else, obesity and diabetes are concerns that deserve an aggressive response. “It isn’t just here that there are problems like that,” she said. “It’s all over the Cree Nation.”
For a person who’s out of shape or battling obesity, getting into better fitness might seem like an abstract goal that’s hard to work toward. Better to have a specific date to get ready for, and a specific prize to try to win. For that reason, the Fitness Challenge, with a $1500 top prize for adult competitors, and $500 for juniors, is partly designed to give people who might never have thought about getting fit a reason to begin working out.
Because it’s also invitational, there’s an element of competition from members of other communities. That element also emboldens Mistissini’s reputation as one of the Cree Nation’s fitness hubs, boasting the Neoskweskau Complex, which brings the community together in pursuit of physical fitness.
The only barb in the Fitness Challenge was the cost of entry, which peaked at $300 per person for the single adult categories, and $250 per younger entrant, a serious investment in the hope to win back your money and more. Still, Gunner doubts that the cost of entry prevented anyone who wanted to from participating.
“I don’t think that’s been a problem for anyone,” said Gunner. “If people didn’t come, it was probably more because they hadn’t done enough training.”