The gold medal cousins Rayn Cook Thomas (Vic High), Ariel Schellenberger (Oak Bay High) and Braden Nelson (Mt. Doug Secondary) celebrate soccer wins at the 2017 North American Indigenous Games. (Submitted photo)

Oak Bay athlete celebrates golden North America Indigenous Games

Trio of Greater Victoria cousin come home with gold medals

Summer 2017 is a golden one for Ariel Schellenberger.

The Oak Bay High athlete earned gold with Team BC’s U16 soccer team at this summer’s North America Indigenous Games.

Ariel’s been playing soccer since she was five or six years-old, participating in both club and school teams, and finds it a key element to personal and mental health.

“It’s an escape from whatever your mind is on,” she says. “You’re just worrying about the moment you’re in and you’re being present.”

Athletics are part of her everyday world. She was part of the Oak Bay High rugby team that won the previous two provincial championships. When she heads back to Oak Bay High this fall, she’ll again join the volleyball, soccer and track and field teams as well.

She shared her golden summer with cousins Rayn Cook Thomas (Vic High) and Braden Nelson (Mt. Doug Secondary) who won gold with U16 boys team.

“It was pretty cool them being there. It was a support system to me,” Ariel said.

In reality, the teen says, all four soccer teams at the Ontario competition felt like family. During each game, the other three BC teams – of the or U16 boys and girls, U19 boys and girls – would head to each other’s competition. It saved her squad in their second game.

“The soccer teams were the only ones who had the big support system because we were all staying in the same place,” Ariel said. “The beginning of the second half (of Game Two) they all started singing so we got all pumped up.”

First up in the Games competition was a daunting American team.

“You’re playing Team New York first, and we expected them to be pretty hard because they’re from New York. We had big expectations,” Ariel said. “We actually came together really well and ended up winning 6-0.”

She scored one of the two notches in the second half and admits to her part in some good plays, while spreading the credit as a team of “really good individual players came together really well.”

The second game they faces strong Saskatchewan who won 7-1 in their first game.

“We knew it would be a tough game but we showed up, we were out warming up before them,” Ariel said.

Unfortunately the prairie team took an early lead, but the BC squad became known for for the strong second half.

They came back to win 3-1, thanks to the cheering from the fans.

A laid back mentality nearly took a toll in Game Three against Team Manitoba.

“This was the worst team in our pool but we played the worst. Sometimes I notice in soccer that you’ll pay down to the other team’s level and that happened,” Ariel said, noting they ended the first half 0-0. “We changed up our formation, got different players in and we ended up scoring two goals. It as a wakeup call because games can change that easily.”

They moved into the semi final against North West Territories, a game that’s a bit of a blur between the adrenaline and the outrageous heat in Toronto.

“We didn’t know what to expect,” Ariel said. “I don’t remember much about it because we were just so excited. I guess I just had too much of a rush heading into the final.”

That put them in a rematch with Saskatchewan for gold.

“Because we already played this team, we had our heads up pretty high but also we didn’t let it get to us,” Ariel said. “The first half it was pretty good because we had possession of the ball almost all game.”

The game was limited to 30-minute halves because of the heat and they finished the first 30 ahead 1-0.

“That got our confidence up, and we knew that we had strong second halves.”

With their BC peers “chanting like crazy” by the end, Team BC won gold with a 4-0 win.

“It was cool because the boys team played the day before for their gold medal and they both only one 1-0,” Ariel said.

All four soccer teams earned gold.

“Lots of people say it’s an experience of a lifetime, but I’m going to shoot and do it again in a few years,” she said. She hopes to make the U19 team in three years. NAIG are hosted every three years.

“Even if I can’t participate in the Indigenous games again as an athlete I would volunteer. Without the volunteers there it could not happen. They’re up there so many hours helping us athletes be furled to do what we needed to do.”



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