A Whirlwind Week

‘Know who you are,’ Eskimo Ninja urges teens at leadership rally

Story and photos by Dianna Troyer

United Electric Co-op representatives relax before touring the Capitol. From left are chaperone Dakota Searle and teens Sawyer Kondel, Eliza Yearsley, Camilla Yearsley and Emeline Bliss.

Walking home from school in his village of Unalakleet in northwestern Alaska, Nick Hanson confronted bullies. They pounced on him near the beach on Norton Sound. One threw a rock at him, knocking out a tooth.

“I was in third grade, but it’s still so vivid decades later,” said Nick, 34, a motivational speaker and former competitor on the “American Ninja Warrior” television show.

“As I was washing the blood off my face in the ocean, I thought of how to make the bullying stop,” he told 68 teens at the Idaho Consumer Owned Utilities Association Youth Rally last July at The College of Idaho.

Camila Yearsley and her sister Elliza clown around while bowling.Teens sponsored by United Electric Co-op Inc. were Emeline Bliss, Sawyer Kondel, Camilla Yearsley and Eliza Yearsley. They were joined by others from throughout the Northwest, plus Utah, Wyoming and Nevada.

In addition to listening to motivational speakers, the teens learned how electricity is generated and transmitted, formed simulated co-ops and picked their sources of power generation, watched a safety demonstration, toured the state Capitol, performed in a talent show, bowled, went to a water park, had a formal banquet and dance, and earned scholarships.

During his presentation, Nick spoke of his epiphany that fateful day.

“I realized these kids who had been picking on me for years didn’t know who I really was,” he said. “To them, I looked
white and different from them because my dad is Italian and my mom is Inupiaq. I’m proud of my heritage—both European and Eskimo.

“I decided to start showing them who I was and what I was passionate about. I became an athlete, a math geek, a guitar player, an artist and a chess player.”

Nick Hanson teaches the 1 foot high kick to Sawyer Kondel and Emeline Bliss.Nick’s athleticism impressed his bullies, who eventually became his friends and basketball teammates.

Know Your Mission

Nick urged teens to know who they are.

“Pinpoint your passions so you will know your life’s purpose,” he said. “Knowing your mission will keep you grounded, so you can face whatever happens in life. Staying physically active helps you stay mentally stable, too.”

Taking Nick’s advice, United teens shared who they are and their career aspirations.

Camilla plans to work as a mental health counselor, inspired after helping friends during high school.

“Our sophomore year, friends told me about their struggles, so I decided to be a counselor to help them get back on track,” she said.

Her sister, Eliza, plans to become a child psychologist.

“It’s fascinating how our brains work,” she said. “I worked as an aide for special education children and really liked it. I clicked with one student and saw improvements.”

Sawyer Kondel learns about Abraham Lincoln's role in idaho's statehood.Emeline said she gained a love of music from her mother, who plays French horn.

“I’d love a career teaching music and performing,” said Emeline, a pianist and French horn player.

For the talent show, she played “At the Ivy Gate.”

Sawyer, a shooting guard for the Burley High School basketball team, said he would love to play basketball in college or have a career in coaching.

Teens said Nick’s story of becoming a ninja contestant was unforgettable.

After high school, Nick studied civil engineering at the University of Alaska. He quit and returned to his village to teach high school math and coach sports. In 2014, a friend suggested he apply as a contestant on “American Ninja Warrior.”

Calling himself the Eskimo Ninja on his 30-page application, he wrote about his despondency from missing friends who died by suicide. Attempting to take his life, he rode his bicycle off a 200-foot cliff. Miraculously, after careening down a ravine, he survived and changed his outlook on life.

He also wrote of his athleticism, competing in the World Eskimo Indian Olympics and Arctic Winter Games. He still holds 2 world records set at those contests: 37 feet, 5 inches in the scissor broad jump and 8 feet, 4 inches in the toe kick.

Eliza Yearsley, plays eskimo game known as the ear pull.Impressed, producers invited him to debut on the show in 2015. 3 years later, while filming in Los Angeles, he was the first contestant to scale an 18-foot-tall warped wall.

Another motivational speaker at the event was 60-year-old Mike Schlappi. As an athlete who uses a wheelchair, Mike advised teens to accept change and be adaptable.

He showed the gold and bronze medals he won as a 4-time member of the U.S. Paralympic basketball team from 1988 to 2000. Dangling beside the medals was the bullet that lodged near his spine and paralyzed him from the waist down at age 15.

Mike said he forgave his friend who accidentally shot him while playing around with a pistol he didn’t realize was loaded.

“That bullet could have kept me from doing things, but I didn’t let it,” Mike said. “What paralyzes you and is keeping you from working toward your goals?”

Other speakers reminded teens not to text while driving and not post anything they would regret on the internet.

At the end of the week, $10,000 in outstanding achievement awards and scholarships were presented.

Rally applications for sophomores or juniors in United Electric’s service area are available at our Youth Ralley webpage. Applications are due April 27.