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Reaching her personal best

Elizabeth Rexford '08 is champion at 2005 World Eskimo-Indian Olympics

Elizabeth Rexford '08 was a five-time champion in the 2005 World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (WEIO), held July 20-23 in herhometown of Fairbanks, Ala. Rexford, an Inupiaq Eskimo, triumphed in the knuckle hop, Alaskan high kick, one-hand reach, kneel jump and the scissors broad jump. She had second-place finishes in the toe kick, two-foot high kick, one-foot high kick and blanket toss, as well as a third-place finish in the ear pull. (complete 2005 results)

Elizabeth Rexford
Elizabeth Rexford '08 demonstrating the one-hand reach. Rexford holds the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics record in the event, which tests athletes' balance and strength. (photo courtesy of Elizabeth Rexford)

The WEIO was founded in Fairbanks in 1961. It is now a four-day series of traditional Alaska Native athletic competitions and dances. The WEIO attempts to recapture the spirit found in circumpolar villages where people gathered to participate in games of agility, balance, strength and endurance, as well as dancing, story-telling and other games.

Rexford said that the competition requires "concentration, coordination, strength, flexibility, ability to tolerate pain, cooperation, stamina and quickness." Events are rooted in practical skills and were originally designed to give men and women an opportunity to demonstrate that they possessed the strength, discipline and endurance needed to survive the harsh northern environment.

"I grew up around the Native games and have learned a lot about my culture by participating," said Rexford. "These games have been around for thousands of years and have been handed down from generation to generation. Each game has its origin and its story behind it."

The scissors broad jump, for example, is patterned after a person hopping from one moving ice floe to another. Competitors in the two-foot high kick leap into the air from a standing position, keeping both feet together at all times, and kick a softball-sized sealskin ball perched on a string up to eight feet high. This game originated in coastal whaling villages when, after taking a whale, hunters would jump and kick both feet in the air to signal to villagers in the distance to come help with the catch.

(Complete descriptions of all WEIO events)

Rexford has been competing in the WEIO since her freshman year of high school five years ago. She currently holds the WEIO record in the one-hand reach and said she is close in several other events. "[I] train in the summer during tourist season," she said. "I demonstrated the traditional Alaska Native games every summer from my freshman year of high school up until last year. We used to hold two to three shows per day."

Rexford has participated in other sports, but said she feels most comfortable participating in Alaska Native competitions. "The mentality of the competitions is unlike any other sport ," she said. "We aren't always competing against each other, but instead against ourselves to reach our personal best and to help other competitors do the same."

By JOEL AALBERTS

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Last Updated: 12/17/08