by Brian Egert

I can say that I have never prayed to win a race, but am truly thankful for the ability God has blessed me with.

First impressions may not always be accurate. At first glance, Jaira Cross Child looks like any other 16-year-old teenager from the Canadian prairies. She enjoys time with family and friends and can be found texting on her cellphone. Most people would never fathom that under her petite exterior is one of Canada’s up-and-coming middle distance runners. Jaira is currently the top-ranked athlete in her age category in Saskatchewan, and this past summer she represented Team Saskatchewan at the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in Toronto.

I had the privilege of sitting down with Jaira between races at the NAIG to gain some insight into her passion and pursuits.

BE: What does participating in such a huge event as NAIG mean to you?

JCC: It’s been surreal and overwhelming. We cheer each other on and lend support to the team. We represent ourselves, our communities, and Saskatchewan. We promote both the sport of track and field and healthy living.

BE: You had the privilege of carrying the Métis flag into the opening ceremonies. How was that experience?

JCC: I was honoured to be chosen to carry the flag that represented our province and its Métis and Indigenous Peoples. Over 12,000 people cheered as I entered the Aviva Centre arena.  

BE: You did very well at the games. Tell us your results.

JCC: I am in the U16 Division and a multiple U16 gold medal winner in the 1,200m, 4 x 400m relay, 2,000m, 800m, and the cross-country race (3 km).

BE:  Congratulations! I understand that your dad, Tarrant, is one of the four coaches for your team. What is that like for you?

JCC:  He is so supportive of all the runners who come from various indigenous communities in Saskatchewan. He is also a runner, so he understands our challenges and is an enthusiastic encourager. He knows me well, and I trust him.  

BE: All around the venue we saw the Team 88 emblem. Can you tell us about that?

JCC: Team 88 refers to the call from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for all levels of government to take action to ensure long-term Indigenous athlete development and growth through continued support of the NAIG. This includes funding to host the games and for team preparation and travel. It is a reminder of the partnership and support from all Canadians.

BE: What would you say to other young Aboriginal women looking to you for wisdom?

JCC: Be yourself. Be positive. Influence others. Be healthy in your choices. Your identity is not found in your background, culture or achievements. You don’t have to win every race—just do your very best.

BE: You attend The Neighbourhood Church in Saskatoon with Pastor John Drisner. How have they supported you in your athletic journey?

JCC: People in the church have been texting, sending encouraging messages. We are blessed with a great church family.

BE: What role does your faith play in your athletic pursuits?

JCC: When I do my backward walking strides, I often pray: “God, thanks for this opportunity. Thanks that I am here. Help me honour You and do my best.”  I can say that I have never prayed to win a race, but am truly thankful for the ability God has blessed me with.  

BE: Your dad conducts “Child of the Cross Running Clinics.” What role do you play?

JCC: Our Child of the Cross Running Clinics give my dad the opportunity to share a message of hope and restoration while encouraging healthy living through running. I help with administration. When we do a clinic in a community, I lead a small group of kids. It’s important to care for them, to encourage and motivate each one, and even tie laces when they come undone.

BE: How do these clinics help the communities?

JCC: Our strategy is not so much for the entire community as it is for each individual. If we can influence one person, they in turn influence more. The ripple effect moves the community toward greater health. Focusing on one or two changed lives can spread like a fire to others.

BE: You have seen a big turnaround in your dad’s life. How has that impacted you?

JCC: To be honest, I did not look up to him in my earlier years as he was absent from our lives. But since the transformation in his life, I admire and respect him. At our clinics he often shares his personal story of what God has done in his life. Today, my dad is a positive influence on so many people. He is living a well-balanced life, with Jesus at the centre. He cares for his family and his work. He runs hard and works hard too. He’s such an inspiration. I want to be like that.

BE: You are currently in Grade 11. What are your plans after high school? Do they involve running at a higher level?

JCC: I am presently training with the Saskatoon Track & Field Club and would like to run at the university level in a few years. I know God has a plan for me.  My role is to keep my focus on Him every day.

Brian Egert is the Mission Canada director and assistant to the general superintendent of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. He and his wife, Beverly, live in Burlington, Ont.

Image courtesy Jaira Cross Child. This article appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of testimony, the bimonthly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada.

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