From Hawaii to the Arctic Winter Games

Many people dream of going to Hawaii, but very few would ever consider traveling to the Arctic. Sam Lankford, professor of health, physical education and leisure services at the University of Northern Iowa, has helped to pioneer a study about the Arctic Winter Games to better understand the impact they have on the people involved. Lankford began the study in Hawaii and has since traveled to various parts of the Arctic to collect data.

High kick

The Alaskan high kick is one of the

indigenous sports played at the Arctic

Winter Games. Photo courtesy AWGIC

The Arctic Winter Games is a sports competition held biannually for athletes in the northern and arctic regions. Various types of activities include contemporary sports, such as indoor soccer, basketball and hockey, and indigenous sports, such as Alaskan High Kick, head pull and a signing competition among women. "These sports were developed over thousands of years as training and exercise during the winter in igloos or other close quarters," said Lankford. Participants come from Inuit, Inuvialuit, Dene and Metis aboriginals, Scandinavian and Russian cultures.

Through these games, participants enjoy friendly competition while sharing cultural values from northern regions around the world. His research began in 1992 with the help of a grant and aid from the Arctic Winter Games International Committee. Lankford hopes to analyze the personal, social and community benefits of involvement for participants of the Arctic Winter Games and regional trials leading up to the games. He’s also researching these events from a promotional and government point of view. Are the Arctic Games worthy of supporting and are they worth the investment?

"Most of the athletes are from 'fly-in' or real isolated communities with less than a few hundred people. I began my work in Hawaii, another isolated area, where I researched isolated communities, so it was a natural fit," said Lankford.

When asked what he most enjoys about the Arctic Games, Lankford responded, "I enjoy the Arctic sports the most, followed by the cultural programs. Dog-sledding and indoor soccer are also fun to watch."

Going from Hawaii to the Arctic is a drastic change not many people would make. "In my first trip to the Arctic, the temperature was -70 F and we had to depart the plane in a blizzard and walk across the runway. I was frightened to say the least," said Lankford. "I'm not sure I enjoy the cold, but I enjoy the challenge."

Not only does UNI receive international exposure, but students also assist him in his research and have the opportunity to attend the games with him, which will be held in Whitehorse, Yukon this March. Students must take two terms of the course Community Planning Workshop in order participate in this project. In this class they learn how to write proposals, timelines, budgets and collect, analyze and present data.

"This was one of my top highlights at UNI," said Sam Walter, a graduate student who went to the 2010 Arctic Winter Games with Lankford. "I came away with a very large appreciation for the event, the people who are devoting so much time to putting the Arctic Games together, and all the athletes who do the training necessary to make it to this point."

The information Walter and Lankford gathered was very valuable. "We could see the importance of this research for the Arctic Winter Games organizers," said Walter. “Overall, it was a very memorable and positive experience to be part of something such as this research.”

Lankford's research will continue four more years and will then conclude with presentations in Canada.