The vast majority of the more than a dozen Sudbury athletes who leave for Regina this week, site of the 2014 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG), are not new to competition.
A member of the Valley East Waves for the past five or six years, Isaac Callaghan has participated in swim meets right across the province.
Similar story for Kiel Cress, a soccer goaltender with the Sudbury Impact of the Central Soccer League. And while she is only 13 years of age, Hannah Morningstar had her first taste of upper-level competition this summer, taking part in the District H Legion Meet in Sudbury.
No, testing themselves against top-end opponents will not provide a new experience for the trio, or most other members of Team Ontario who represent the province at NAIG the week of July 28.
"There's going to be a lot of swimmers, because it is all of Canada," Callaghan said. "If anything, it's maybe even more serious than most of my meets. You're representing your province — you gotta make them proud."
"I think it will be more comfortable with just the Native kids. I don't know why," said Morningstar, a mainstay at the local elementary meets who hooked up Track North earlier this summer, seeking some extra helpful guidance.
"We're excited to see our new friends from Sioux Lookout," added Cress, enjoying a somewhat different situation than either Callaghan or Morningstar. A member of the Ontario soccer team, Cress has already had the opportunity to forge new friendships, with the team assembling for practices and exhibition games late last month.
"And I'm really anxious to play the Northwest Territories. I'm anxious to see how they play."
Cress will also enjoy the comfort of a very familiar teammate, with younger brother Jacxsen also having cracked the roster.
The Indigenous Games, which opened this past Sunday in Regina, are bringing together some 6,000 athletes from across North America, including teams from New York, Wisconsin, Colorado, Nova Scotia, Alberta, Nunavut, Manitoba, Florida, Connecticut, Yukon, California, Ontario and the host, Saskatchewan.
Held every four years, the NAIG is still trying to gain traction within the Aboriginal community.
"It was Issac's swim coach who noticed that he was Aboriginal based on his registration form," said the boy's father, Steve. "For a long time, the Métis people tried to deny their Aboriginal roots because of the stigma that was attached with it.
“In this case, it's kind of a cool thing to say that I belong to this group."
Twins Kiel and Jacxsen can relate.
"My brother and I were at the indoor soccer field in Sudbury, and I saw this sign about the games," said the elder twin by 13 minutes. "My mom talked to the people at the Métis office and we found out we were eligible."
Sudbury participants (to the best of our knowledge) are: Tanner Kinoshameg (soccer), Kalah Rayne Pottier-Guignard (soccer), Gregory Trudeau-Paquet (basketball), Matisha Nootchtai-Henry (track & field), Grace Racicot (track & field), Dawson Nootchtai (canoeing), Kiel Cress (soccer), Emma Petahtegoose (softball), Isaac Callaghan (swimming), Conrad Naponse (golf), Kiana Seidel (volleyball), Jacxsen Cress (soccer), Alexie Legault (track & field), Hannah Morningstar (track & field).
Bo Peltier, who hails from closer to North Bay but has represented the Sudbury Rockhounds for several years, will also be competing in lacrosse.