By Sam Laskaris
TORONTO – A teenager from Garden River First Nation was one of the biggest stars at this year’s North American Indigenous Games (NAIG).
Jadyn Zeppa, 14, captured five medals, including three gold, at the Games, which concluded on Saturday. Her medal haul also included a pair of silver medals.
Zeppa established three personal bests during her impressive Games’ performances.
Competing in the girls’ under-16 category, Zeppa clocked in a 12.84 seconds in her 100-metre race and 27.21 seconds in her 200-metre event. Those were the fastest times she has run at both of those distances.
Since it was her first time competing in a 300-metre race, Zeppa technically also had a personal best in that event, winning gold in 43.54 seconds.
Zeppa also anchored her 4×100-metre Team Ontario relay squad to a silver-medal finish. She also picked up another silver by leaping 4.47 metres in her long jump competition.
Zeppa admits she had some mixed emotions prior to the multi-sport Games, which attracted about 5,000 athletes and coaches from across Canada and the United States.
Originally she was somewhat concerned she would be facing athletes more than a year older than her in her age grouping.
“It was on my mind I’d be one of the youngest ones there,” Zeppa said. “But even if I didn’t medal, at least I got the opportunity to run for Team Ontario.”
As the Games drew closer, Zeppa gained more confidence. And no doubt she received a morale boost by advancing to the Ontario high school track and field championships last month in Belleville.
Representing her high school, Korah Collegiate and Vocational School in Sault Ste. Marie, Zeppa competed in the midget girls’ 100-metre and 200-metre races. She tied for fifth spot in her 100-metre race, but didn’t advance to the final of her 200-metre event.
Zeppa, however, was then brimming with confidence entering NAIG.
“I was hoping to medal in all my events,” she said.
Zeppa is especially proud of the fact that she struck gold in her 100-metre race.
“I had a good start, but [Juleah Duesing] from Saskatchewan had the lead with about 40 metres to go,” she said. “What went through my mind was that you could do this and that you’ve got this and you can get the gold medal you’ve always wanted.”
Besides being on her school’s track and field team, Zeppa has also been a member of the Sault Athletics Club for the past year. Though she trains with the club, it does not compete in meets.
Zeppa said she is looking to start taking her track and field efforts even more seriously now.
And she’s also hoping to crack the rosters of a couple of others school teams this coming year. Last year she tried out for both the junior girls’ (Grades 9 and 10) volleyball and basketball squads, but did not make either one.
She plans to try out for both squads again in her Grade 10 year.
This year’s NAIG featured athletes aged 13-19 competing in 14 sports.
The Games were primarily staged in Toronto. Some surrounding communities also hosted some sports.
The track and field events were staged at York Lions Stadium in Toronto.
Besides attending the NAIG’s opening ceremonies, Zeppa also took in various concerts that were part of the Games’ cultural components.
“It was a lot of fun,” she said of her experience. “I made some really close friends.”