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Yukon siblings earn international youth award

A pair of Whitehorse siblings have parlayed learning to play hockey and to snowshoe into an internationally recognized youth award.

A pair of Whitehorse siblings have parlayed learning to play hockey and to snowshoe into an internationally recognized youth award.

At a ceremony earlier this week, Rhys Watson earned his silver Duke of Edinburgh Award while his sister Teaghan completed the bronze level.

The award is given out to youth who finish a set amount of hours on tasks in four categories: community service, skills development, physical recreation and a fourth category that focuses on excursions, called adventurous journey.

About seven million youth in 141 countries have participated since the award was created in 1956.

It has been six years since anyone from Yukon earned the recognition.

The Watsons moved from Nova Scotia to Yukon two years ago. For the last two years Rhys, 16, has been playing the alto saxophone in the All-City Band.

He also spends his time volunteering with the All-City Band, with his cadet squadron and with the Canadian Hemophilia Society.

To get the silver award he was often found mountain biking on the trails around the territory.

The silver Duke of Edinburgh Award is completed over six months. Participants spend an average of one hour per week dedicated to each activity over the time period.

“(The award) prepares you for what comes next,” he said. “It prepares you for helping out the community, it prepares you for helping out the world, it helps you grow into that person that will be needed for the future.”

To complete the adventurous journey category, Rhys, a long-time cadet, went with the Royal Canadian Army Cadet Corp winter camping near Carmacks.

For 14-year-old Teaghan, completing the bronze award meant picking activities from the same categories as her brother but completing fewer hours over a shorter period of time.

She started working on the award as soon as she was old enough.

“I thought it would be really fun and a good way to stay active and learning. Plus I could be inspirational to others to do the program too.”

She volunteered at the food bank and local animal shelter.

A student at Porter Creek Secondary School, Teaghan took part in a sports leadership program to learn to play hockey. When she started, she didn’t know how to skate, she said.

“But by the end of it, I was a really good skater, I knew how to play hockey and I was amazed by the accomplishment.”

For her expedition, Teaghan, who is a member of the army cadets, travelled just outside of Medicine Hat to hike 12 kilometres.

“It was really fun. I got to meet a lot of new people and I came back knowing a lot of things I didn’t know before, how to live out in the woods.”

Closer to home, she also completed the cadet expedition instructor course. The six-week program involved more than 100 km of hiking, 230 km of mountain biking and 150 km of canoeing.

Completing the requirements for the award is helping him discover what he’s passionate about, Rhys said.

“I aspire to be a doctor, either medical or research, at least in the field to help cure hemophilia, which is a disability that I live with daily.”

For now he’s already got his eye on accomplishing the gold award.

Gold is the highest level of the award a youth can receive.

It requires even more hours, spread out over a year. Gold level recipients also must take part in a “residential project,” something like a training course or service project that takes places outside of their home.

Rhys has already completed a trip that would qualify.

This year he learned the basics of how to launch and build rockets at a six-week advanced aerospace course for cadets.

“We scuba-dived and learned different aspects of living in space and different skills you would need in space.”

Both Rhys and Teaghan said they would encourage other Yukoners to try out the Duke of Edinburgh program.

“The Duke of Edinburgh program is an amazing program,” Rhys said. “It grows you into a better person and helps prepare for the future.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at