It has already been an extremely busy year for Iqaluit’s Akutaq Williamson Bathory, but the 18-year-old from Iqaluit is just getting started.
In the span of eight months, she won three gold medals for Nunavut in short-track speed skating at the 2023 Arctic Winter Games in Alberta, smashed several Nunavut speed skating records at the Canada Winter Games in PEI, and graduated high school with a $100,000 scholarship from the Loran Scholars Foundation — enough, in sum, to earn quite a bit of media attention.
Come September, she will add another accomplishment to the list when she flies south to begin studying sociology at the University of Calgary.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” she said of the move. “I know it will be a huge adjustment mentally, physically and emotionally, but it’s going to be rough no matter where I go for the first few weeks or months. I’m looking forward to the whole adventure of it, because what’s excitement without a little bit of fear.”
While much of Williamson Bathory’s time will be spent studying and socializing with new friends, she will also continue speed skating.
She will train six days a week, on and off the university’s Olympic Oval. That will include a four-hour session on Saturday mornings — much longer than the one and two-hour sessions she’s grown accustomed to in Iqaluit.
“That’s going to be a huge adjustment,” she said.
Despite all she’s achieved as a speed skater, Williamson Bathory still has some big goals in the sport. For starters, she aims to skate 500 metres in less than 50 seconds.
“I really want to achieve that and I know that I will,” she said. “I know I can push myself.
“I know I’ll get stronger over the years.”
Many of the 18-year-old’s goals have other Nunavummiut youth at heart: she aims to inspire that up-and-coming generation.
“I want to beat my personal records and continue to be a role model for the younger kids to show them that they have these great opportunities, and show them that they have the ability to take advantage of those opportunities and continue thriving on this beautiful land that we’ve been raised on.”
As an established athlete and coach with the Nunavut Speed Skating Association, Williamson Bathory sees particular potential in the territory’s young athletes, and hopes to have opportunities to teach and motivate those athletes in the future, just as her long-time coach Kyle St. Laurent has done for her since she started skating as a young girl.
“I’m definitely planning on coming back and continuing coaching, because speed skating has been such a big thing for me,” she said. “I really hope that I can come back to my community and help give that feeling to other kids.
“Nunavut has such strong, beautiful athletes and it’s amazing. I can’t wait to see what more there is to come for Nunavut athletes.”
The territory’s young athletes will have to do without Williamson Bathory’s mentorship while she is pursuing her degree in Calgary, but the 18-year-old was happy to share some advice with anybody who seeks to follow in her footsteps.
“Be confident in yourself and be brave and push forward,” she said. “To be from Nunavut is so beautiful. Be proud of who you are and where you come from.
“Some kids might feel isolated, and like they might not have support, which is another struggle in Nunavut, but take the tools that you have in front of you, and strive for great things in life.”