The web journal Canoe.ca profiles Native athlete Daina Stevens in a recent story. Canoe says her participation in the North American Indigenous Games in Winnipeg may not have been the Olympic Games, but for Stevens, it felt like it.
The former Ontario collegiate crosscountry star has had a dream for many years of competing among her cultural peers and a couple of weeks ago got her chance at the Indigenous Games.
“It was the biggest thrill I’ve ever experienced in my life,” said Stevens, 27, the 1996-97 OCAA cross-country champion when she attended Cambrian College in Sudbury. “I’ve never actually been so nervous before at a competition.” While Stevens resides in Toronto, she grew up on the M’Chigeeng reserve on Manitoulin Island before going to Cambrian. Although she hadn’t competed since her college days, the opportunity to represent her reserve proved too much to resist. The fitness trainer quit two part-time jobs to dedicate to training, working out two hours almost every day.
Stevens won silver medals in the 8-km cross-country (38 minutes 31.06 seconds) and 10,000-metre track (44:01.35), a bronze in the 1,500 metres (5:36.84) and a gold for Ontario in the 4×400-metre relay (4:54.83).
“I knew this would be a lifetime achievement and I wanted to be in the best shape for the Games,” she said. “This wasn’t just for myself but for my community.” The Games, which was the largest Aboriginal multi-sport and cultural gathering in Canadian history, included 16 traditional sports as well as three Aboriginal original events — 3-D archery, canoeing and field lacrosse. The meet attracted 6,300 First Nation, Metis, Inuit and Native American athletes for 11 days, which was more athletes (5,000) than the 1999 Pan Am Games in Winnipeg.