By Dean Campbell
In Rankin Inlet, most kids play either hockey or soccer. A town of 3000 people, Rankin Inlet sits on the northwest shore of Hudson Bay, in western Nunavut. For the last 15 years, NCCP certified coach and guidance counsellor Lisa Kresky has offered a third option – gymnastics – that has helped change the lives of hundreds of Rankin Inlet residents.
Kresky launched Aqsarniit Ujauttaq (Northern Lights Gymnastics) in 2004, shortly after arriving in Rankin Inlet. Fifteen years later, the club has grown to a membership of 145, ranging from the ages of one to 57.
Kresky began in gymnastics when she was nine-years-old, and by the age of 13, she started coaching in Stratford, Ontario. Kresky went on to earn multiple National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) certifications in gymnastics and soccer.
“The NCCP Certification teaches the basics and fundamentals of coaching, as well as safety and proper technique relevant to specific sports,” said Kresky. “What I learned through my NCCP certification is still relevant 25 years later.”
Her own gymnastics program is a way of bringing her passion to the residents of Rankin Inlet. Working as a guidance counsellor, Kresky “deals with mental health all the time.” Time in the gym has helped provide positive experiences for all club members, no matter what their athletic ambitions might be.
“We try to meet all of the needs in the community,” said Kresky. “We want people to stay in the sport and have fun. This isn’t about getting on an Olympic track.”
The club exists entirely thanks to volunteers. Kresky and the other coaches all donate their time, and each practice happens wherever the participants can find space.
“We set up and tear down all of our equipment at every practice,” said Kresky. The club practices in the school during the academic year and moves outside when the school closes for holidays. “When other sports take over the gym, we practice in the halls, or the weight room if it’s available.”
Though the club operates in a grassroots way, Kresky has helped kids use the sport to enrich their lives through travel to new places and experiences. This year, a team comprised of club members will head to Dornbirn, Austria to participate in the World Gymnaestrada. A celebration of Gymnastics for All, the Gymnaestrada happens just once every four years and is open to all ages, all abilities, and all levels of participants.
For the Rankin Inlet team, getting to Austria will not be easy. Fundraising efforts started more than six months ago, securing more than half of the goal, but $60,000 is still needed before everyone on the team can go. Athletes and coaches already travelled to Vancouver to earn the privilege to represent Canada in Austria.
“The team going to Worlds has been able to travel to Las Vegas, Bahamas, and Vancouver,” said Kresky. “These trips provide opportunity to learn more about the sport, and also provide great life lessons in navigating cities and cultures very different from their own.”
Kresky’s goal for Aqsarniit Ujauttaq is to allow greater flexibility and creativity in routine creation. Each member of the team is free to develop their own routine with whatever music they like. The creativity has helped athletes stay engaged and Kresky loves to watch team members collaborate and support each other’s creativity.
The resulting routines have helped lead the way to World Gymnaestrada, and enables the athletes of Rankin Inlet to showcase their own view of the world to other participants.
“My gymnasts won’t be doing big flips,” said Kresky. “One of our routines really showcases Inuit culture and life in the North.”
The plan for Worlds also includes a three-day trip to Paris. The city embodies club member’s perceptions of Europe and so has been added to the itinerary to help enrich the travel experience.
“People have said this trip will never happen,” said Kresky, referring to the Worlds. “They said that about Las Vegas, and the Bahamas, and we said ‘watch us.’”
So much of what Kresky has built with the club extends beyond the realm of creating routines and performing with teammates. Life lessons on developing and pursuing goals, the drive to be a contributor to a community, and how to use creativity to help see the world continue to motivate her club to reach beyond all expectations.
“When I look at my program now, we’ve really built a community,” said Kresky. “Two of my coaches were able to go away to university and have come back to coach and work in Rankin.”
Kresky’s success has been built on a foundation of quality NCCP training and coaching experience. She has brought great pride to the community of Rankin Inlet as the program continues to evolve and to provide great opportunities to its members.
Meanwhile, Kresky continues to be invested in her growth as a coach. Recently, she participated in the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer as a member of the Canada Games Apprenticeship Program. Leading up to the Games, she was involved in two professional development workshops focused on NCCP training, leadership development, and exposure to high performance coaches. To learn more about the NCCP or to register for a course, please visit our website: www.coach.ca/-s15408.