At 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 24, after a day of activity at the 44th annual Native Youth Olympic Games (NYO), CIRI descendant Autumn Ridley was just warming up. That afternoon, she’d already placed third in the Kneel Jump, and now, as the first day of competition drew to a close with its final event, Autumn had one thing on her mind: breaking a world record.
“I didn’t really care about winning,” says Autumn, who in 2012 set her first world record in the girls’ Alaskan High Kick, which requires an athlete to balance on one hand while launching one foot into the air to kick a suspended ball, then land on the kicking foot. “I’m already the record-holder, so I just really wanted that new record. I knew I was going to kick it. I just knew.”
Autumn’s confidence was rewarded when she shattered her previous record by kicking at a height of 83 inches. Not satisfied with simply competing with herself, she went on the next day to break a 25-year-old world record by kicking a 79-inch height in the Two-Foot High Kick. “It was a long journey,” she says of her achievement. “I was really proud and honored, and it was a huge relief because I’ve been trying really hard to have a season like this. I kept telling myself, ‘Dream big, Autumn.'”
More than 500 students from across the state dreamed big at this year’s NYO, an event organized by CIRI affiliate Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) to celebrate Alaska’s rich diversity and foster values like teamwork, leadership and cross-cultural respect among Alaska Native and non-native students alike.
“NYO is a cherished event that has a lasting impact on all involved,” says Kelly Hurd, CITC director of development. “Autumn is a great example of how NYO serves as a training ground for tomorrow’s leaders, and she represents exactly why it’s such an honor for CITC to serve as the organizing sponsor for the NYO games. We’re grateful for our sponsors, generous donors and volunteers who invest in our youth.”
Each year, NYO features ten athletic events derived from the games Alaska Native people have used for generations to develop the skills needed to survive day to day. NYO also hosts an opportunities exposition with resources available to help prepare young athletes for future success. This year included a special event celebrating 30 years of CITC’s impact in the community.
For more than 44 years, NYO has equipped young people with more than athletic ability. It has, Autumn says, given students like her the tools to succeed in school, and in life.
“I didn’t think I was going to graduate high school until NYO came along,” she shares. “NYO is my entire life. I’ve learned how to deal with conflict, leadership, sportsmanship, how to cope with my problems. I’m definitely going to graduate, and it’s all because of CITC.”