Athletes, activists to carry torch for Arctic Winter Games in Wood Buffalo

Rheimer Reid is among the torchbearers for the 2023 Arctic Winter Games. Reid has done adventure races and protected homes during the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire. (Submitted by Rheimer Reid - image credit)
Rheimer Reid is among the torchbearers for the 2023 Arctic Winter Games. Reid has done adventure races and protected homes during the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire. (Submitted by Rheimer Reid - image credit)

The flame of the Arctic Winter Games will travel across some of the most northern communities in Alberta this week, on its way to Fort McMurray for the 2023 edition of the event that combines northern sports and culture.

The Arctic Winter Games is an international competition for athletes from Northwest Territories, Yukon, Nunavut, northern Alberta, Alaska, Greenland, Finland and Norway.

The event runs from Jan. 29 to Feb. 4 in Wood Buffalo and include a myriad of different sports including alpine skiing, snowshoeing and Dene Games.

With the start of the Arctic Winter Games approaching, more than 40 former athletes, current athletes and activists will carry the torch across the region.

Jenn Vardy, chairperson for the Arctic Winter Games 2023, said the process for choosing the torchbearers was long, as there were more than 200 nominees.

"A lot of fantastic people were nominated and the process of selecting those people was taxing," Vardy said.

Vardy said while the athletes are a huge and important part of the games, it is still a community event. Nominating torchbearers is a way to spotlight people who lead and "have the torch of our community and light the way for our future generations," Vardy said.

"It's an opportunity for everyone to be able to participate."

The torch relay will begin Wednesday in Fort Chipewyan and Fort Fitzgerald/Smith's Landing First Nation before finishing in Fort McMurray on January 28.

Adam McDonald, a Cree activist from Fort McKay, was one of those selected. McDonald has walked across Canada to raise awareness about MMIWG.

Sumbitted by Adam McDonald
Sumbitted by Adam McDonald

Vardy said he was selected to represent Fort McKay because he's a "national treasure."

"Who else would be better to hold the torch to represent Fort McKay than someone who's leading the way in making sure that we lower the number of missing and murdered Indigenous people?"

McDonald said being a torchbearer has been a dream of his ever since he carried the torch at the Alberta Summer Games when he was 14.

When he found out he would once again get to hold a torch, "I jumped for joy."

Tanis Robillard, a former Arctic Winter Games athlete, was selected after she nominated by her niece.

Submitted by Tanis Robillard
Submitted by Tanis Robillard

"It's almost like a full circle moment for me," Robillard said.

Robbillard, 47, was an athlete in the 1992 games and won a silver ulu on the Alberta volleyball team.

"It makes me feel old," Robillard said. "It's almost like a reality check of how fast time goes."

Robillard is representing Conklin in the torch relay and she said she's excited to showcase her community.

Rheimer Reid, equipment operator and former firefighter, will be a part of the Anzac relay team.

During the 2016 wildfire that ripped through Fort McMurray, Reid stayed back during the evacuations and protected homes in Gregoire Lake Estates.

Reid is also an athlete, having done several adventure races, but he says he is recovering from an injury, so he may not be at top speed when doing the relay.

"I'm not as fast as I once was," Reid said, adding that he'd love to see lots of people come out and support the relay.

"The region has been absolutely wonderful to me and my family," Reid said. "There's been a lot of thick and thin. I think everybody's felt it for sure. It's a great time to move ahead."

Alicia Gladue, a 17-year-old athlete, will be participating in the Dene Games this year and she's one of the torchbearers for Fort McKay.

Submitted by Tanis Robillard
Submitted by Tanis Robillard

Gladue, who is Dene and Cree, said she was unfamiliar with many of the events she'll be participating in, but she's excited to get closer to her traditions.

"It makes me feel like I'm kind of keeping it going, the teachings going, in a fun way," Gladue said.

She's planning on wearing a handprint across her face to represent MMIWG, as the issue is close to her heart.

"I want to teach people and kind of remind them that this is still an ongoing thing."

The Arctic Winter Games run from Jan. 29 to Feb. 4.