Each month, we’ll be sharing the research and global adventures of one of our faculty members and/or students who have conducted research in his/her field of study, in our blog series entitled: Global Research Series.

Sam Lankford, Ph.D.
Sam Lankford, Ph.D.

While Fresno faces a triple digit heat wave typical of summer, halfway across the continent in the northern and arctic regions, temperatures remain chilly in the low- to mid-40’s. Come March 2016, temperatures are expected to be even more bone chilling – and Dr. Sam Lankford, community recreation and youth services professor and chair in the Department of Recreation Administration, hopes to be there to take it all in.

However, he’s not going there to escape the heat of the Valley, but rather to attend the 2016 Arctic Winter Games (AWG) in Nuuk, Greenland. The AWG is something he is passionate about, as he has been conducting research on the event for the past 23 years.

Photo Credit: AWG2016.org

The culmination of his research, along with his colleagues from the World Leisure Association, was recently released, via the Arctic Winter Games International Committee (AWGIC), in a report titled, “The Impact of the Arctic Winter Games: A Social Capital Perspective”. The report provides an in-depth overview of the positive social benefits communities experience as a result of hosting the Arctic Winter Games, which takes place every two years. Since Lankford has been involved, 13 different cities have hosted the games.

Lankford cites various social and economic benefits for host cities, including: 1) awareness of one’s own community, and respect for northern cultures, 2) socialization that provides opportunities for those in isolated areas to meet new people, 3) Some infrastructure updated or newly built, 4) increased volunteerism and individuals becoming more active in sports and community

Athletes compete in in the Dene sport of Pole Pushing. / Photo Credit: AWG2016.org

Held biannually, about 2,000-3,000 athletes from across Finland, Russia, Greenland, Canada and Alaska come together to represent their respective country in various activities and games that range from contemporary to indigenous. Athletes compete in sports common to the U.S. like basketball, skiing, badminton, ice hockey and wrestling. But what makes these Games unique are the indigenous sports, such as the Alaskan High Kick, Kneel Jump, One Hand Reach and Knuckle Hop to name a few. These are sports developed exclusively for use in igloos and small spaces, common in the arctic. Dene games like the Finger Pull, Snowshake and Pole Push are unique only to the north.

“The impact of the Arctic Winter Games on athletes, coaches and cultural participants is well understood,” said AWGIC President, Jens Brinch, in a AWGIC press release. “This report helps us clearly identify the benefits that host communities receive when they take on the responsibility for holding the games. The report provides some interesting observations on the leadership, social and health benefits that host communities can expect. In combination with the obvious economic and sport impacts, hosting the Games leaves a huge legacy.”

Athletes compete in Arctic sport. / Photo Credit: AWG2016.org

Because of his research on the Games, Lankford has traveled to various parts of the Arctic. His journey began in 1992, when he was a professor of recreation and leisure sciences at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. During that period, he also served as the director of the World Leisure Professional Services unit, which was contracted to provide research services for the games.

“At the time, I was publishing on the topic of the benefits of recreation participation, the social, personal, community and economic aspects,” said Lankford. “These studies were being used to justify recreation programs in Canada and the U.S. So researching this topic for the AWG was a natural progression.”

Sam Lankford (L) and Larry Neal. / Photo Credit: S. Lankford

He, along with Dr. Larry Neal, professor of Parks, Recreation and Tourism at the University of Oregon, were originally contacted by the Northwest Territories Municipal and Community Affairs and the AWGIC to identify whether or not goals for the games/participants were being realized. From there, Lankford and Neal developed a survey instrument while in Yellowknife, Canada, which is still used to this day by AWGIC staff.

Coming from the picturesque atmosphere that Hawaii is famous for, to the remote villages of the Arctic was a bit of a culture shock for Lankford, but a welcome one. He recalls one of his first research endeavors that led to him to Iqauluat, Nunavut Territory where he experienced extreme frigid temperatures of -70F – a far cry from tropical climate of Honolulu. Other memorable times include overnight stays in igloos, dining on arctic char, muskox, caribou, seal and whale – all basic food found in the arctic. These moments serve as further indication that the Arctic Games are no ordinary games and not what you’d typically see in the famed Olympics.

Athletes come from Inuit, Inuvialuit, Dene and Metis aboriginals, Scandinavian and Russian cultures.

Lankford in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. / Photo Credit: S. Lankford
Lankford in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland. / Photo Credit: S. Lankford

“Most of them are from “fly-in” or isolated communities with a population of a few hundred,” said Lankford. “These games provide both the athlete and their coaches with not just opportunities to compete, but also a chance to meet new people, socialize with others and see new places.”

“They also get to be a part of a team, competing against people who are good athletes,” Lankford continued. “Many of the coaches were past athletes themselves and now give back by coaching and teaching traditional games and competitions. They now serve as role models.”

Lankford and a former student enjoying the Arctic Winter Games. / Photo Credit: S. Lankford

Although Lankford has now taken up residence at Fresno State, he still plans to continue with his research on this topic and hopes to attend the 2016 Nuuk Games, time permitting. In the past, he’s taken his students along to assist in research and experience the Games firsthand. If given the opportunity, he hopes to also take two recreation administration students from Fresno State along for the arctic adventure.

“Students who have attended the games for the research project said it was the highlight of their academic program,” said Lankford. “The students collect surveys, interview athletes, coaches and officials, while learning about a part of the world that very few get to experience.”


For more information on Lankford’s research, please contact him at slankford@csufresno.edu.