Team BC dominated the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) this month, taking the overall title for their effort in 13 different disciplines, and Sechelt Nation youth Tahlaela Marks was among the athletes who made it happen.
Team BC took the top spot through securing a total of 176 medals at the NAIG: 65 gold, 57 silver and 54 bronze.
Tahlaela helped obtain one of those gold medals with the U19 female soccer team. She played midfield and defence on the U19 team, which went undefeated at the games.
The 16-year-old Sechelt Nation member who lives in Port Coquitlam was originally slated to play for the U16 soccer team but coaches saw her skill level and moved her up to play in the U19 league just before the games began.
“I felt really honoured because it feels good to be really young on an older team,” Tahlaela said. “You think about all the people who could have been on the team instead of you. It definitely makes you feel proud of yourself.”
As the youngest player on the team, Tahlaela had a lot to prove and every time she laced up her cleats she gave it her all, as did her older teammates, who welcomed her with open arms.
She said it was the hard work and determination of everyone on her team that resulted in their winning streak. The U19 BC female soccer team was undefeated in all five matchups at the NAIG, handily winning gold.
“When we got our gold medals, that felt really great,” Tahlaela said, noting she was proud of all of the Team BC athletes who competed in different disciplines at the NAIG and became like family.
“You notice that Team BC is very different from other provinces. Everyone’s there cheering for each other and we sang a cultural song every game. It feels good when you’re playing and you know that there’s someone in the stand cheering for you.”
The NAIG is held every three years in a different location, this year in Toronto from July 16 to 23. It’s an exclusive event for young athletes of aboriginal ancestry between the ages of 13 and 19.
This year Team BC brought about 500 athletes to the games to compete in archery, track and field, badminton, basketball, canoe/kayak, golf, lacrosse, rifle shooting, soccer, softball, swimming, volleyball and wrestling.
Together those athletes secured the Overall Team Title at the games, 12 medals ahead of second-place Team Saskatchewan.
“This was a complete team effort,” said Lara Mussell Savage, Team BC’s Chef de Mission. “We assembled an amazing group of athletes, coaches, volunteers and mission staff, and from day one they made their presence felt in Toronto.”
Tahlaela said she was humbled to be chosen as a member of that group, admitting she doubted her ability make it on the team. “If people think they want to do something, they should try and do it,” she said. “Me personally, there were times where I didn’t think I was good enough to do things like this, but you don’t know until you try. So I think that people should just go for it.”
Tahlaela’s next athletic goal is to make it to the NAIG in 2020 to once again play on the U19 female soccer team.