Talia Grant and Shawna Kyak have become the early media darlings of the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games.
The Nunavut beach volleyball players are in constant demand from the press as the first competitors from the territory competing in that sport at the Games.
“The spotlight is on us. It’s unheard of for Nunavut to have a beach volleyball team and we’re just building on that,” assistant coach Jonah Oolayou said.
Grant and Kyak lost their first game in straight sets to Prince Edward Island, 21-14 and 21-9 Monday before earning their first win, topping Yukon 21-13, 21-13.
“It was amazing. I was over the moon,” the 21-year-old Kyak smiled.
The duo dropped a 23-21 25-14 decision to Team Newfoundland and Labrador Tuesday and now await the playoffs Thursday.
But while wins and losses are obviously important, at this stage Grant and Kyak are also aware they are trailblazers in a sense.
“I feel like we’re trying to expand more sports we can play at the Games and have more opportunities for more people,” Kyak said.
Grant, a 23-year-old Winnipeg native who moved to Nunavut for high school, is the veteran of the team who exactly three years ago Tuesday teamed up with another partner at the Western Canada Summer Games in Swift Current, Sask. in Nunavut’s first venture into beach volleyball.
“Volleyball has been growing a lot, it’s expanding a lot,” Grant said. “In 2018, I was too old to play indoor anymore but I found out they were hosting outdoor tryouts for beach volleyball. I made the team and at that point (if was thought) maybe (you can attend) the Canada Summer Games but then with the pandemic it didn’t seem like it was possible anymore.
“A year ago we had tryouts again and here we are!”
Grant is well aware of the oddity of a team from Nunavut competing in, of all things, beach volleyball.
“It was a new opportunity,” she said. “It seemed kind of crazy at first because we don’t have warm weather. Where are we going to play beach volleyball in Nunavut?”
Grant said the government of Nunavut stepped up big time.
“They have given us amazing opportunities to travel to Halifax and to British Columbia. A total of a month of training in hot weather and on sand so we had the preparation and we were able to acclimate to the weather,” she said. “The major thing has been exposure so that month of training has really helped us. We have wet towels and socks because the sand burns the bottom of your feet and just hydrating.”
Kyak, who is enrolled in the recreation and leisure services program at Algonquin College in Ottawa this fall, has a cousin, Evan Kyak from Pond Inlet, who is part of Nunavut’s men’s indoor volleyball team that will also compete next week.
Grant and Kyak plan to take in the sights of Niagara Falls Wednesday.
“We’re going to be tourists,” Grant smiled.