The Comeback Kick

CIRI descendant Judah Eason competes in the seal hop at the 2018 Native Youth Olympics. Photo by Jamey Bradbury.

NYO Provided the Grit and Focus Needed for One Athlete to Recover from a Devastating Injury

By Jamey Bradbury, Cook Inlet Tribal Council

When 15-year-old CIRI descendant Judah Eason regarded the sealskin ball hanging above him at a height of 102 inches during the one-foot high kick at this year’s Native Youth Olympics (NYO), he flashed back to exactly one year ago, when the pain of a bone breaking in half halted his NYO weekend.

“The kick was good,” he recalled of the moment he leaped into the air for what would be his final time at the 2017 NYO.

His knee had been bothering him in previous kicks, but the Ninilchik team athlete chalked it up to a knee problem he’d had for ages—no big deal.

“But on my way down, I knew I was going to land straight because I’m used to landing straight when my knees hurts,” Judah went on. “So my muscles contracted and kept my knee straight, and when I landed, the tendon pulled the bone in half. Then I went down, basically through the ground. It was pretty painful when it initially happened. But it was more scary to have 300 people staring at me!”

CIRI shareholder Anna Eason, Judah’s mom, remembered rushing to the floor of the Alaska Airlines Center’s gym and seeing him give her two thumbs up. Then the NYO nursing team put up curtains to give Judah privacy and tended to his injury until the ambulance arrived.

“They did a great job,” Anna praised the NYO nurses. “They were quick to respond. They didn’t know what was wrong, exactly, but they treated it the way they were supposed to, wrapped his knee quickly and kept it safe.”

At the hospital, staff X-rayed Judah’s leg and set it, then sent him in for surgery. Anna weathered a terrifying moment when doctors told her that because Judah’s leg had swollen so much, they might need to amputate.

But surgery went well and soon Judah was on the path to healing.

“They said he wasn’t going to walk until October, but by October, he was already kicking again,” Anna said. “He healed way faster because he’s an athlete; he has grit and determination, and he wanted to get back in the game. That’s what I love about NYO—it teaches the young athletes to be so strong and resilient.”

This year, Judah participated in NYO as a member of the Salamatof/Kenaitze team. He hung in with his one-foot high kick competitors until he missed the ball on an attempt at kicking 102 inches, placing him just behind the top five medalists. But simply competing was a triumph, given how far Judah had to come back after his injury.

“[That injury] is probably always going to be in the back of my head, but it wasn’t bad this year,” he said. “I tried to distract myself with other people, my teammates. I tried to focus on them and not focus too much on my leg.”

Having said that, Judah excused himself from the interview—it was nearly time to line up for his next event, the seal hop.

Watching her son jog away on a knee that seemed completely healed, Anna smiled, happy to see her son competing again. “We love the Games, and everything that they are.”

Check out more highlights from NYO 2018 by visiting