Kassua and Tuja Dreyer, two siblings from Ross River, shone at the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in July, bringing home a total of 12 medals.
Those medals included 11 gold and one silver, making up one-quarter of the overall medal count Team Yukon won at the competition.
The 2023 Games were held in Halifax from July 15 to 23, with Team Yukon finishing with 39 medals: 20 gold, 10 silver and nine bronze.
Kassua, 18, said participating in this year’s competition with her brother Tuja was an unforgettable time.
“It was a really fun experience for us,” she said.
A citizen of the Ross River Dena Council, Kassua made her debut at NAIG in Toronto in 2017, winning six medals.
Before the competition in Halifax, Kassua was swimming with her university team at the University of Calgary where she is currently studying international Indigenous studies.
A week before the competition, she flew into Whitehorse to join the rest of the team. She trained with Shareen Hill, one of the swimming coaches for Team Yukon, and Bronwyn Pasloski of the Whitehorse Glacier Bears.
“We kind of worked on race preps going into the competition,” she said. “Swimming is an all-year-round [sport] and I’ve been training all-year round.”
Kassua was Team Yukon’s flag bearer at the opening ceremonies of the Games. She said the competition was a really fast-paced meet with lots of back-to-back races.
“It was interesting to see how I swam under that pressure,” she told the News.
Tuja, 15, who traveled to Whitehorse from Victoria where he is studying at Claremont Secondary School, said he really liked the competition and thought “it was a great experience.”
Having their family around during the competition was a huge inspiration and motivation for them, the siblings agreed.
“That was really cool because when I moved out I hadn’t seen much of [Tuja] and we haven’t had a lot of competitions together,” Kassua said.
“My aunt and grandma came to watch us, too, and it was really nice to have them cheer for me,” Tuja noted.
Doris Dreyer, Kassua and Tuja’s mom, described their performance as amazing.
“I’m endlessly proud of my kids because I know how much daily work it takes to do that while in the pool and that comes from discipline, daily workout and many hours in the pool up and down,” she said.
Doris said Tuja was outstanding and swam faster than any other swimmer. At his school in Victoria, she said he trains with the swim club as well as swimming as part of class. Every day, his last block of school is swimming from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m.
“He was like 25 meters ahead of everyone else and it shows how good a swimmer he is,” Doris said. “Kassua got her personal bests in that event and it was great seeing her get the medals.”
Tuja won his medals in 50m, 100m and 200m butterfly, 200m backstroke, 200m freestyle and 200m individual medley. Kassua won her medals in the 100m and 400m freestyle, 200m breaststroke, 100m and 200m butterfly and 200m individual medley.
Doris said she is appreciative of the coaches who helped train and support her kids for the competition, including Hill and Gordon Reed, chair of the Yukon Aboriginal Sport Circle.
A week after NAIG, the two siblings headed to the 2023 Speedo Canadian Swimming Championships which was held from Aug. 1 to 6 in Toronto.
Tuja won two medals: a silver in the 400m individual medley and a bronze in the 50m butterfly. Kassua achieved personal bests at the meet in the 100m and 200m breaststroke and the 200m and 400m individual medley.
“It was a lot tougher because the best in the country came for the meet,” Kassua said. “It was really cool to be a part of it. I had a lot of best times and I’m really proud of that.”
Kassua said she had a really tough year mentally, adding that she won’t set any expectations for the coming season.
“I just want to have fun and enjoy the time with my teammates and coaches,” she said. “But I’m really happy that I was able to finish my season on such a high note. I really had a good season and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do next season.”
Contact Patrick Egwu at firstname.lastname@example.org