FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. — Akutaq Williamson Bathory will be heading home to Iqaluit with three gold ulus from the Arctic Winter Games, medals named and shaped after traditional Inuit knives.
The 17-year-old took the top spot in the 500 metre, 777 metre, and 1,500 metre short track speedskating events in the 2004-2008 female division this week at the games held in Wood Buffalo, Alta.
She said it has been an "empowering" experience that celebrates the support, love and encouragement she has been given.
"It feels amazing to be able to represent my beautiful home this way," she said. "For me to win a gold it's in a way giving back to my home ... to make my family and friends and community proud."
The speedskating community in Iqaluit is tight-knit, Williamson Bathory said. Many of the athletes have grown up together and spend lots of time with each other, including travelling south for competitions.
"Every single competition we go down to we always come back with no voices because of cheering so much," she said. "It creates such a positive environment."
Williamson Bathory said she's been speedskating for 11 years and remembers her first few practices when her coach would have to fix her helmet because she wasn't wearing it right.
Now she has competed at two Arctic Winter Games and will be headed to her second Canada Winter Games. She also won gold in 2022 at both the Atlantic Cup in P.E.I., and the Nunavut Territorials.
"It's fast-moving, it's exciting, it's scary, it's all of the emotions and it just really gets your blood pumping," she said of why she loves the sport. "When you're cheering too everybody's all riled up because of how exciting it is."
Williamson Bathory said her personal hero is Wren Acorn, a speedskater from Yellowknife, who she also calls her friend. Acorn was one of 10 Canadians who competed at the Winter World University Games in Lake Placid, N.Y., last month.
"I think for me why she inspires me so much is because she comes from the North," Williamson Bathory said.
"We need more representation from the North, especially for Indigenous children in the North, being so isolated at times from the rest of Canada. People need that inspiration to see that they are capable of being as strong as she is and making it as far as she has come and still pushing through."
Williamson-Bathory said she's looking forward to sharing her own accomplishments with the kids she coaches.
Next, she hopes to set the female speedskating record for Nunavut at the 2023 Canada Winter Games set to begin in P.E.I. later this month.
When she's not speedskating, Williamson-Bathory enjoys going out on the land with her family to their cabin.
"That's a number one part of life that I enjoy a lot," she said.
She's also proud that she can speak her mother tongues of Greenlandic and Inuktitut.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2023.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Emily Blake, The Canadian Press