When Gabriel Rabbitskin won four gold medals and one silver medal in swimming at the North American Indigenous Games in BC during the summer of 2008, the entire Cree Nation rejoiced.
Because of his commitment to his sport, athletic development, his positive community image, concern for holistic development and achievement of a personal sport milestone, Gabriel Rabbitskin was awarded the 2008 Tom Longboat Award for the Quebec region.
The Tom Longboat Award is given to one male and one female Aboriginal candidate in each province or territory through the Aboriginal Sports Circle, a national organization. The award is earned for outstanding sports achievement.
“I feel pretty good; it feels like I achieved something. It took a lot of time, I have been swimming now for about 13 years and I am now seeing the results. Even if it took time, the bigger results are now coming up,” said Rabbitskin in reaction to his win.
Mistissini’s Jeff Spencer, who has worked with the Aboriginal Sports Circle for many years and recently was nominated the Quebec vice-chair, suggested that Rabbitskin’s mother, Josée, nominate him with Spencer’s backing.
Though Rabbitskin may have been modest about his win, for which he also received a congratulatory letter on behalf of Athletes Canada, Spencer hailed the win as another win for the Cree Nation.
Though others from Eeyou Istchee have been nominated previously, Rabbitskin is the first Cree who actually grew up in the Cree communities to have won the prestigious award. The award is a direct reflection of Rabbitskin’s outstanding performance at the 2008 Games and what he has brought back to his nation as a result.
Reflecting back on NAIG, Spencer was delighted though not surprised at Rabbitskin’s success.
“I told him that he had two things that were really keeping his head above others, one was his desire to succeed and the second was his confidence. I said to him that I could see it every time he dove off the diving board, that he could focus to win and that was it. The support from his mother is also unbelievable and I think that it is just such a win-win situation,” said Spencer.
Since the 2008 Games, Rabbitskin has kept up with his training and is determined on being successful in the Recreation and Leisure program he is studying at Cégep de Rivière-du-Loup.
He is also focused on his new gig, coaching the next generation of Quebec’s swimming stars, children ranging from age 5-7 in his local swimming club.
Though Rabbitskin has a little bit of experience coaching in the past by filling in for others, he has never had his own group to teach so this is a new experience for him.
“Even though it has only been two months now, I can already see their progress. It is something that touches me in a way to see that they are learning stuff and that this is coming from me. I have learned all of this stuff but I don’t want to keep it all for myself. I like to see that they are learning and that they are using the stuff I have taught them,” said Rabbitskin.
Spencer thought Rabbitskin was also the perfect candidate to coach as he is just such “a natural” at it.
“I have always stressed that with any athlete who I have worked with, eventually we like to pass down the torch and it is very important to give back,” said Spencer.
Coaching, however, is not the only means by which Rabbitskin is giving back, he has also returned to his native Mistissini to share his experiences with the students of the elementary school and high school there.
Rabbitskin brought his medals to show them and present a video that was made by his team, Eastern Door and The North, about their experience at the Indigenous Games.
Sharing his success with the community’s youth wasn’t just about showing how far determination could go when it comes to athletic achievement; the purpose of his talks to the youth was also to discuss healthy lifestyle habits as a role model.
For the time being, Rabbitskin is thinking about his future, trying to chose a career path, swimming competitively whenever he can and contemplating as to whether he would like to coach or compete or both when it comes to the next NAIG.
“Right now with my course I have to think about the different jobs that I could do. I could work in a school, a gym, at home with the Elders; there are lots of different places. I have to make a choice but what I really want to do is everything. I don’t want to just be at the gym or the pool, I want to go to school and do everything,” said Rabbitskin.