Reggie Joule has always had a special ability to soar and touch the sky. The greatest practitioner of the blanket toss in the long history of the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, Joule learned the games of his Inupiat Eskimo people at a young age, at first outdoors where he could see the beauty of the horizon stretching across Kotzebue Bay, and then indoors, where gold ulus were awarded to champions.
Joule progressed from a young jumper who without the help of a bystander would have missed the blanket and crashed to earth on his first jump, to the most avid proponent of the ancient skill. As pullers tightened the bearded-seal blanket, Joule flew with legs straight and arms extended. Joule was so good at the blanket toss he could do back flips in mid-air.
The winner of 10 gold medals during the annual summer WEIO festival in Fairbanks, Joule took his show on the road, treating a national audience to his blanket toss talents on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, educating other Americans on the Today Show, and showing tourists at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. what Alaskan Natives do for amusement.
World Eskimo-Indian Olympics games are rooted in the subsistence lifestyle of Alaska’s native population, and the blanket toss for centuries was used as a signaling method to alert villagers of a successful whale capture or hunt.
Over nearly two decades at WEIO, Joule captured more than 30 medals in the two-foot high kick, greased pole walk, arm pull and other events, earning the title “Mr. Olympics.” He also successfully represented Alaska in the Arctic Winter Games.
Eventually, he taught the fine points of the games to new generations. Some called him “Father Coach.”
– Lew Freedman