Category Archives: sports

Don’t take it lightly — Local teens have powerful experience competing out of country

Photo courtesy of courtesy of the International Powerlifting Federation. Robin Johnson, a junior at Soldotna High School, traveled in June to Salo, Finland, to compete in the International Powerlifting Federation RAW Classic Powerlifting World Championships.

Photo courtesy of courtesy of the International Powerlifting Federation. Robin Johnson, a junior at Soldotna High School, traveled in June to Salo, Finland, to compete in the International Powerlifting Federation RAW Classic Powerlifting World Championships.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Competition can push a person to do their best, and while two local powerlifters upped their game by traveling to Scandinavia to compete this summer, it was their personal growth from the experience abroad, as much as their wins, that they cherished from the journey.

“Being a good athlete really wasn’t the only thing I got out of these trips. It gave me a better idea of myself,” said Cipriana Castellano, a senior at Kenai Central High School. She and Robin Johnson, a junior at Soldotna High School, traveled in June to Salo, Finland, competing in the International Powerlifting Federation RAW Classic Powerlifting World Championships.

They crushed the opposition in their respective weight classes for teens 18 and under. Castellano — competing in the 159- to 189-pound weight class — amassed a three-lift total of 898 pounds, squat lifting 336 pounds, bench pressing 181 pounds and deadlifting 380 pounds. Johnson — competing in the 138- to 158-pound weight class — put up a three-lift total of 865 pounds, squat lifting 341 pounds, bench pressing 176 pounds and deadlifting 347 pounds.

“It was a perfect day and I’d live it forever if I could. I learned I’m capable of anything and that I’m not a quitter, I won’t ever quit,” Johnson said.

Coming home with the win doesn’t mean she didn’t feel the butterflies of anxiety from competing so far from Alaska, and American soil in general.

“Finland was like going back in history and I got to see what I learned in my sophomore history class. The cathedrals were giant and so detailed. The ground was made from little stones fit together perfectly to make a road. Everything was different.

“The grass was greener, all the native people to Finland all looked similar — blond hair, blue eyes, thin and quiet. The roads were smaller and the sidewalks were bigger. They served in such smaller portions and I’m used to stuffing my face,” Johnson said, but joked that she made up for it by stopping for gelatos nearly everywhere she went on her downtime.

Travel was also different. Johnson took buses or taxi for just a few Euros, and walked frequently. When she did see cars, they were different than the vehicles of the U.S.

“(They had) smaller cars, too. I only saw one truck while I was there and it was a Ford F-150. Living in Alaska, we see trucks more than any other vehicle,” she said.

The competition was also a little different, and not quite as friendly as Johnson was used to, particularly her Russian counterpart, who ended up finishing in second place among the eight teens in their division. Johnson said that the girl cooled to her after her win and would purposefully avoid sitting near her on the shuttle to and from events. But again, Johnson said it was an opportunity from which to grow.

“I learned that you can only focus on yourself, because you only have control over one person, which is you. I learned not to worry about anything but what I was doing. When I was competing, I did that,” she said.

After returning home Johnson began transitioning out of specifically training for powerlifting to focus more on CrossFit and weightlifting.

“It was what I was doing before powerlifting seriously and I love it, and all the people involved with it, so I’m going to see where it takes me. Ultimately, I want to be going to the CrossFit Games,” she said.

Johnson also has a few more years of high school left and wants to start narrowing her academic focus.

“I want to either be a sports psychologist or specialize in sports nutrition, but I’m going to see where life takes me. It’s what I’ve always done and I’m so happy with the path it’s led me. I’m going to trust in the process,” she said.

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Youth rowing makes a splash — Mackey Challenge builds teen skills

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Teams Four Oars and Rocky Rowers race in the Mackey Challenge youth rowing event put on by the Alaska Midnight Sun Rowing Association in Soldotna on Aug. 22.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Teams Four Oars and Rocky Rowers race in the Mackey Challenge youth rowing event put on by the Alaska Midnight Sun Rowing Association in Soldotna on Aug. 22.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Considering the logistical challenges to getting all her ducks in a row for the Alaska Midnight Sun Rowing Association to hold its first-ever youth event Aug. 22, Coach Nancy Saylor said that, all in all, the event went swimmingly.

“It’s gone pretty well like we planned it. I like to plan and then just let it go and see what happens and it usually works out pretty well,” Saylor said.

Saylor said she’s wanted to do a youth event for years. The Soldotna team currently only has a few youth members — more are always welcome — and it’s nice to give them a chance to participate with their peers. In rowing, it isn’t always feasible to field a whole team to travel to a race event, especially in Alaska where the season is short and participation isn’t huge. So rowers go as individuals and form teams with whoever else is looking to fill a boat.

“You get together with a group of people, you might not know everybody there but you can find ways to work together. So, to me, that’s what today is all about. I’m just really excited to have the kids here, they’re just a kick in the pants. Sometimes they’re just so funny, some of the things they do, and they’re willing to learn and try new things, so I really enjoy that part of it,” she said.

To further that goal of working together, Saylor mixed the eight Anchorage and four Soldotna teens up into three teams — the Rocky Rowers, Four Oars and Chocolate Milk. Yes, they picked their own names.

“Chocolate milk because we have chocolate milk here,” Saylor explained. “And one of the Anchorage teens was very impressed with that because there’s never chocolate milk at regattas so she was very excited, and so their team name is Chocolate Milk.”

The teams cycled through a series of stations. There was a safety relay, where they were timed in putting on a hat, glasses, whistle and lifejacket. They also rigged a bare boat to be ready for the water.

Alaska Midnight Sun volunteer Laurie Winslow helps team Chocolate Milk carry its boat to the water on Mackey Lake. Cooper Plumhoff, a senior in Anchorage, brought special footwear for the lake’s water launches.

Alaska Midnight Sun volunteer Laurie Winslow helps team Chocolate Milk carry its boat to the water on Mackey Lake. Cooper Plumhoff, a senior in Anchorage, brought special footwear for the lake’s water launches.

“Some of the kids here from Anchorage had never rigged anything before so a part of what I wanted to do here today is that everybody learn something and they all work together as a team,” Saylor said.

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Weighty dreams — Teen phenom powerlifters set sights on world titles

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Robin Johnson, a 16-year-old sophomore at Soldotna High School, squats 330.5 pounds Saturday during the Kenai Peninsula Powerlifting Challenge 2015. She also bench pressed 187 pounds and dead lifted 347 pounds. Johnson is one of two teens hoping to bring home the gold in their division during the 2015 Raw World Championship held in June in Salo, Finland.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Robin Johnson, a 16-year-old sophomore at Soldotna High School, squats 330.5 pounds Saturday during the Kenai Peninsula Powerlifting Challenge 2015. She also bench pressed 187 pounds and dead lifted 347 pounds. Johnson is one of two teens hoping to bring home the gold in their division during the 2015 Raw World Championship held in June in Salo, Finland.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Genetically gifted, freakishly strong, pint-sized powerhouses. Robin Johnson and Cipriana Castellano have received a lot of monikers over the last year for their powerlifting strength and skill, but there’s one more title that both these teen titans are hoping to be called in the near future — world champion.

“I love this sport and want to show what I’ve put into it by putting up big numbers,” said Johnson, a 16-year-old sophomore at Soldotna High School, referring to her hope of coming home with the win for 14- to 19-year-olds in 158-pound, sub-junior weight division at the 2015 Raw World Championship held in June in Salo, Finland. More than 50 countries will be represented at the event.

Both teens have had a meteoric rise in the standings over the past 12 months, a tremendous feat considering neither had considered themselves powerlifters prior to this time last year. Johnson’s first meet was April 26, 2014.

“Roughly two weeks prior to then I hadn’t ever heard of the sport of powerlifting. I found out through one of my old gym teachers that I had a current back squat max that would beat the American back squat record, so I decided to enter the competition,” Johnson said.

She not only won the event for her age-weight division, but set a new American back squat record.

Rob Schmidt, the state chair for USA Powerlifting, representing about 10,000 members nationwide, said that when he witnessed Johnson’s performance, he knew it was going to be the beginning of a successful career.

“When we saw how strong she was, we were like, ‘Oh my God. This girl is a diamond in the rough,’” he said.

Not only was her raw strength impressive, but the fact that she hadn’t specifically trained for the event, nor had the appropriate gear. She didn’t even have weightlifting shoes, which, with their rigid construction and raised heels, help lifters consolidate more force.

“She showed up in Sketchers, just a regular shoe, and still squatted 280 pounds. That’s astronomical weight for a teen and would have won her the silver medal at Worlds that year,” Schmidt said.

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Looking sharp — Rusty Blades tourney brings out the best

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Matt Dura, No. 12, on the Kenai Rusty Blades team, drafts a member of the Mystery Alaska team, of Anchorage, during the Tier 1 Rusty Blades annual hockey tournament last weekend at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. The Kenai Rusty Blades team won the championship game Sunday.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Matt Dura, No. 12, on the Kenai Rusty Blades team, drafts a member of the Mystery Alaska team, of Anchorage, during the Tier 1 Rusty Blades annual hockey tournament last weekend at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. The Kenai Rusty Blades team won the championship game Sunday.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Paul Walker could see puffs of his own breath in the cold air, proof of how hard he had just been skating, and the blood tricking from his left brow was equal evidence that even recreational-league hockey is not without risk.

“A puck to the face is a good wake-up call,” he joked.

Despite the injury, he said he was still having a great time at the adult-league Tier 1 Rusty Blades annual hockey tournament, held this weekend at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.

Though Walker didn’t even know the tournament existed 24 hours earlier.

“Last night was the first I heard of it,” he said Saturday, day two of the three-day tourney.

Up from Connecticut for work, Walker was asked to play after a member of the Mystery Alaska team, from Anchorage, was unable to take to the ice. Walker jumped at the chance to experience how hockey is played in a state with a lot more natural ice.

“There’s not quite as much finesse as back home. The guys here are a little stronger and faster,” he said.

The rink was much larger than he was used to playing on in the Lower 48.

“This is big ice here, which we don’t have a lot of back east. You can really stretch out and get in some longer passes,” he said.

Trevor Baldwin, Rusty Blades commissioner, said that the purpose of the event is meeting people from other areas and exchanging with them on and off the ice.

“This is a league for guys who love and have an appreciation for hockey. There’s no trophy at the end. It’s just about having fun and socializing with other teams from other areas,” he said. Continue reading

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Iron dogged determination — Soldotna snowmachine racer Scott Davis looks to represent motorsports with nomination to Alaska Sports Hall of Fame

Photo courtesy of Scott Davis. Scott Davis crosses the Iron Dog finish line for his seventh win in 2007 with partner Todd Palin.

Photo courtesy of Scott Davis. Scott Davis crosses the Iron Dog finish line for his seventh win in 2007 with partner Todd Palin.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Any Alaskans interested in snowmachine racing probably know of Soldotna’s Scott Davis. Those with even the merest passing interest in Iron Dog definitely do. Fans of the 2,000-mile annual snowmachine race could rattle off his highlight stats as smoothly as the acceleration on the high-performance machines the two-person teams ride from Big Lake to Nome every February.

He holds a record seven championships — in 1985, 1989, 1993, 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2007 — with five different partners, has 20 career top-three finishes and is the only continuously participating racer who was in the first Iron Dog and is still racing today. He’s only missed a couple events due to injury.

Come Dec. 8 he could have a new title — first motorsports athlete inducted to the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.

“There’s never been a motorsports person that’s made it. But it couldn’t be more Alaskan,” Davis said.

Davis is among 48 other athletes nominated for the individual honor, as well as 26 nominees in the Moment category and 19 entrants in the Event category. Voting — including by the public — closes at midnight Dec. 2.

The Hall of Fame began in 2006, with its first batch of inductees in 2007. Past inductees include a mix of dog mushers, skiers, mountain climbers, runners, basketball, baseball, football and hockey players, and a rower. Events and Moments reflect the same sports — the Iditarod and Yukon Quest, the first ascent of Mount McKinley, the Fairbanks Equinox Marathon, the Great Alaska Shootout, the Midnight Sun Baseball Game, and even Les Anderson’s catch of a world-record king salmon in the Kenai River.

But no honoring of motorsports. This year, Davis and the Iron Dog are nominated.

“I think that there couldn’t be anything more Alaskan than Iron Dog. How many people do you know that actually mush dogs? Not very many,” he said, though hastening to add his appreciation for the athletic achievement required in mushing, as well as mountain climbing, hockey and the other sports that are already well represented in the hall.

“The first Iron Dog I ever did I went, ‘Holy s***, if I were George Attla’s lead dog I’d bite him right in the butt. After doing 50,000 miles or whatever I’ve done on that (Iditarod Trail, which Iron Dog follows for most of its route), I’ve got a lot of respect for the dog mushers. They just do it a different way than we do it. I think (Iron Dog) is uniquely Alaskan, and I think it’s a world-class event and I think we should at least recognize the event if nothing else,” he said.

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Happy hoopla — Elks Hoop Shoot offers 3-pointers to skills, confidence, success

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Delaney Smith, 8, of Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School, prepares to throw a basketball during the Elks Hoop Shoot, held in the gymnasium of Soldotna Prep on Saturday. Smith won her age division and will move on to state-level competition.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Delaney Smith, 8, of Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School, prepares to throw a basketball during the Elks Hoop Shoot, held in the gymnasium of Soldotna Prep on Saturday. Smith won her age division and will move on to state-level competition.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Delaney Smith, a petite 8-year-old with wire-rimmed glasses and blue nail polish standing easily a foot shorter than her competitors, looked more ready for a Battle of the Books than a battle on the court. It was a tall task for a small fry when she approached the foul line on the basketball court Saturday.

In the gymnasium of Soldotna Prep, dozens of kids ages 8 to 13 met to compete for the second tier of competition in the annual Elks Hoop Shoot Competition.

“She already won one,” said Delaney’s mother, Kim Smith, referring to the first tier of competition that took place at the school level, where Delaney was among the best of the best from Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School.

Despite her compact size, she took the ball — larger than her own head — with confidence. She dribbled a few times, then heaved the orange sphere skyward, shot-putting it more than shooting it. Then, a swish. She did this over and over again during the 25 shots she, and each contender, were allotted.

“She’s watched basketball since she was in a car seat. Her brothers and sisters and cousins all play, and she plays through the Boys and Girls Club, so she shoots every single day,” Kim Smith said.

There were plenty of kids there about whom the same could be said, though, so how did the pint-sized girl become enough of a powerhouse to win her age division Saturday and move on the next tier of state-level competition?

“I think a lot of her success comes from playing with the older kids. We’ve always left the basket high for them, so she’s really used to it,” Smith said. Continue reading

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Designed to climb — Kids’ bouldering program takes confidence to new heights

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Marina Schramm works her way across the wall during a class at Redoubt Rock Climbing in Soldotna.

Photos by Jenny Neyman, Redoubt Reporter. Marina Schramm works her way across the wall during a class at Redoubt Rock Climbing in Soldotna.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

In terms of efficiency alone, the ascending popularity of climbing makes sense. It’s like the benefits of other sports distilled into one activity — a great calorie-burning workout without ever breaking into a run. It builds strength, balance, agility and endurance, yet without the repetitious situps, burpees or dumbbell curls of a gym workout. It produces rushes of adrenaline without a buzzer or scoreboard, and teaches teamwork and communication yet is still an individual sport that doesn’t require an entire team with which to play. And it’s physically nuanced with endless iterations of technique to perfect, but with minimal gear required and a basic set of skills to learn that can then be continually built upon.

To really distill the appeal, though, ask a 9-year old: “Because it’s awesome,” said Marina Schramm, of Soldotna. She and her brother, 11-year-old David, are students at Redoubt Rock Climbing, classes for 6- to 12-year-olds taught by Nic and Natalie Larson, of Soldotna.

The Larsons are experienced climbers, and after moving to Soldotna from Fairbanks over a year ago noticed a lack of climbing opportunities in the area. Natalie knows from firsthand experience — literal in that she grew up climbing, and figurative from teaching climbing classes — how beneficial the sport can be for kids. It’s a great physical activity, yet builds mental muscles, as well — in patience, determination, problem-solving and, ultimately, confidence.

“My oldest daughter started doing it more, and the more she climbed the more confidence she had, and that spilled over into school and spilled over into social aspects. That was a really neat thing to see,” Natalie said. “And I had gotten feedback that kids 6 to 12 around here didn’t have that much to do, that we need more things like this on the peninsula. We just wanted to offer something a little bit different.”

So they built their own climbing wall in their basement garage, about 8 feet tall and stretching 25 feet long along two walls, studded with various hand- and footholds and geometric shapes jutting from the textured plywood. What it lacks in its limited, floor-to-ceiling height it makes up for in variety. The entire setup can be reconfigured to varying degrees of difficulty and endless route options — even some that incorporate handholds on the ceiling.

“Basically, everything we’re able to move around. We have tons of other holds — like slopers and jugs and stuff like that,” Natalie said.

A sloper being a sloping handhold without much positive relief to grab, sort of like palming a basketball, and a jug being a hold offering so much to grip it’s like the handle of milk jug. These and other terms are among the first things students learn when they start at Redoubt Rock Climbing.

“Most kids they’re used to climbing stuff — climbing is climbing. But teaching them the intricacies is what we really concentrate on, and the lingo so we can tell them, ‘Grab that sloper, pinch there,’ and they know what we’re talking about,” Nic said.

They started with one student in March and participation grew through the flyers Natalie made up, their website, http://redoubtrockclimbing.blogspot.com, and especially word of mouth. The Schramms, for instance, are neighbors and friends of the Larsons’ three girls, Lexi, Mia and Madison. That’s a learning experience for the Larsons as well as the kids.

“They would come and they would climb with the girls, but it’s different when we’re teaching a class and coaching them. I’m not the friend’s mom at that point, it’s like, ‘This is what we’re doing.’ It changes the dynamics,” Natalie said.

And teaching her own kids?

“You’re going to need to stretch out for that one,” she coached Mia. “You need to get your foot here in order to get your other foot here. Are you listening?”

“Yes. Kind of,” Mia responded.

“Yeah, it’s hard to teach your daughters,” Natalie laughed.

Class sessions last an hour and are offered at flexible times throughout the day and week. Climbing shoes, chalk and other equipment are provided. Students can have any experience level — from zero to veritable monkey — and the Larsons also offer private sessions so adults can participate, as well, including a father-daughter duo.

“We were able to challenge them. We are able to take this wall and transform it into whatever your level is,” Natalie said.

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