Dragon boat racer and wrestler win Tom Longboat Awards as country’s top Indigenous athletes

Monday, October 2nd, 2023 9:51am


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Connor Church and Trina Ross have been named the 2023 Tom Longboat Award winners.


“Connor and Trina are recognized within their sport and are inspirational role models for Indigenous athletes across the country.” —Rob Newman, president, Aboriginal Sport Circle
By Sam Laskaris
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The elite athletic career of Trina Ross started off innocently enough.

Five years ago, Ross, who was a casual rower and a canoeist, signed up two of her children for canoeing/kayaking sessions.
“I saw the dragon boat team then and decided to try it out,” Ross said.

Fast forward to September 2022 and Ross ended up participating at the International Canoe Federation’s Dragon Boat World Championships in Racice, a village in Czechia.

Ross, a member of Pimicikamak Cree Nation in Manitoba, not only competed in that world meet, but she was also one of the top performers at the event, winning a total of eight medals, including three gold.

Primarily because of her efforts at that world meet, Ross, who lives in Winnipeg, was first nominated and then named the female winner of the 2023 Tom Longboat Award.

Métis wrestler Connor Church, a second-year student at Montreal’s Concordia University, was chosen as the male recipient of the award, making him a repeat winner. Church was selected the male Tom Longboat Award winner last year.

The awards are named in honour of the legendary Onondaga runner, who was from Six Nations of the Grand River in Ontario. See our Footprints story on Tom Longboat here: https://windspeaker.com/news/footprints/tom-longboat-athlete-whose-travels-were-far-and-fast

Officials with the Aboriginal Sport Circle (ASC), the governing body for Indigenous athletics in Canada, annually select the top female and male athletes and present them with the award.

Ross, who also won one silver and four bronze medals at last year’s world championships, was told this past June that officials from the Manitoba Aboriginal Sport and Recreation Council had nominated her for the Tom Longboat. But even then, Ross was not expecting to win.

“I didn’t think I would have a chance because of my age,” said Ross, who is 45. “There are so many good Indigenous athletes. I thought they would they give it to somebody younger.”

Ross, however, is the one deemed most worthy of the national accolade.

“It means a lot,” Ross said. “It’s a big thing for me. I try to stay humble. But when I showed my (social media) post to family and friends, they were all pretty proud of me.”

While in Racice, Ross competed in 500-metre, 1,000-metre and 2,000-metre races. She took part in senior women’s races, featuring entrants ages 19 and up. And she also competed in female masters’ events, restricted to paddlers who are 40 and over.

Ross also participated in mixed (both women’s and men’s entrants) races. She competed in both 10-person and 20-person boats.

Ross continues to train year-round at the Manitoba Canoe and Kayak Centre, outdoors when possible and indoors when weather conditions dictate.

Ross was hoping to represent Canada again at the world dragon boat championships in China, which had been scheduled for late December through early January. But she said that event was cancelled earlier this year when COVID-19 cases started rising again in China.

Ross is uncertain when or where the next global competition will be held. But she would like to take part whenever that is.

As for Church, he was pleased to win the national award for a second consecutive year.

“I am absolutely thrilled and deeply honored to accept the Tom Longboat Award,” he said. “Thank you so much for this incredible recognition. I am truly grateful.”

Read our story on Church from his first Tom Longboat win here: https://windspeaker.com/news/sports/metis-wrestler-selected-male-recipi…

Church was named a repeat winner in part because he won his weight category at the national university wrestling championships staged in Edmonton this past February.

He also captured a gold medal at an international competition in Puerto Rico last October. And Church was also chosen as the rookie of the year in the Canadian university wrestling ranks.

Both Ross and Church will officially be presented with their awards at the 2023 Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which will be held Oct. 19 in Gatineau, Que. Ross will be accompanied to the award ceremony by her husband Henry.

“I look forward to being a part of the event,” Church said.

“It is an honour for the Aboriginal Sport Circle to celebrate the achievements of these outstanding athletes through the Tom Longboat Awards,” said ASC president Rob Newman. “Connor and Trina are recognized within their sport and are inspirational role models for Indigenous athletes across the country.”

The Tom Longboat Awards were created back in 1951 by the Indian Affairs branch of the Canadian government.

Over the years control of the awards changed hands several times. The ASC has been managing and presenting the awards since 1999.

Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.