SUQUAMISH — A canoe paddled by two Suquamish athletes was in the midst of a competitive 1,000-meter race. Five canoes, includes theirs, were neck-and-neck as the finish line approached.
“We were coming up in the home stretch. We were going hard, but I knew we could go harder,” said Ah-nika-leesh Chiquiti, one of the racers in the canoe. “We had to give it everything we had, I told her.”
That final push made all the difference. The canoe rowed by 14-year-olds Chiquiti and Jenavieve Old Coyote-Bagley crossed the finish line just one second behind the second-place finisher and one second ahead of the fourth-place canoe.
The bronze medal captured by the duo in the 16-and-under 1,000-meter doubles race at the North American Indigenous Games in Toronto, Canada, is the first ever brought home by Suquamish athletes.
“I’m very, very proud,” said Barb Santos, the Suquamish Sports and Recreation director, who trained the racers. “It brings me tears of joy knowing how hard those girls worked, how hard they trained. It’s just so awesome.”
Chiquiti and her teammates have plenty of experience racing canoes around the Pacific Northwest — like many other young Suquamish racers, they got their start in racing as part of Suquamish’s revived Spirit Hawk Canoe Club. They practice in the open water and on rowing machines at the fitness center.
Although they were unaccustomed to the “clippers” — canoes made out of fiberglass, as opposed to wooden ones normally used by Suquamish teams — the change in apparatus did nothing to stop the girls from completing the race in 3:32, just behind teams from British Columbia and Quebec.
“It was honestly such a great experience, I would do it many more times if I can,” Chiquiti said. “Being there with my team, we all come from the same place and got to do what we love to do while representing our tribe. That means a lot to me.”
The 2017 games took place over the course of a week from July 16 to July 23, and are held every three years.
This year marked the first time members of the Suquamish Tribe had participated in the games, sending eight athletes: canoe racers Chiquiti, Old Coyote-Bagley and Awasis Williams; and golfers Orlando Chiquiti, Devan Crow, Hailey Crow, Kamiakin Gwinn and Tyler Marquez.
Bruce Christy, the head golf professional at White Horse Golf Club, and Irene Carper, the chief operations officer of Port Madison Enterprises, came forward to coach the golfers, who were the only athletes from all of Washington to compete in that sport.
Although none of the golfers came away with a top 3 finish, the experience provided by such a large-scale competition will serve well both this year’s competitiors and their future counterparts.
And there should be plenty more trips to NAIG in store for Suquamish athletes, especially if one of their young competitors has her way.
“I would do it 20 more times, if I could,” Chiquiti said.
— Mark Krulish is a reporter for Kitsap News Group. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.