04/30/2014 08:14 am ET Updated Jun 30, 2014

Love Letters: Fairbanks

Erica Meckel is a 26-year-old Alaska Native athlete living in Fairbanks, Alaska. Born and raised in the interior of the 49th state, Meckel is a graduate of Lathrop High School and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where she earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice in 2010. She is an athlete who has competed in the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics and the Arctic Winter Games, a circumpolar sport competition held every two years for northern and arctic athletes. Since graduating, Meckel has been working as a juvenile probation officer in addition to pursuing a master's degree in business administration.


They call you the Golden Heart City, and you have held my heart for as long as I can remember. Memories of my childhood with you are filled with purple-stained fingers from berry picking, flushed cheeks and freckles from floating the Chena River under the midnight sun and sore legs from hiking up to Angel Rocks to take in spectacular views.

I rode my bike down your dirt roads and to this day, you are a reminder that there are still places in the world where the only sound in the streets is the sound of children laughing. There are no car horns, no sirens blaring. You are as wild and free as the people who call you home.
People come to visit you from all over the world, and when they do, they discover something elusive and magical. Maybe it's your awe-inspiring aurora borealis dancing in ribbons of green and blue across the dark winter sky. Maybe it's the healing waters of the world famous Chena Hot Springs or the way the sun illuminates the tundra in the fall, bushes heavy with ripe blueberries, crimson and golden leaves reminding us of winter's nearness.

Or maybe it's that when visitors come, they discover a sense of place in you. You are growing, but you continue to feel like a small town. With locally-owned business and a rich and thriving Alaska Native culture, you retain a distinct personality that so many big cities have lost.
Fairbanks, I am grateful to you for helping me re-discover my roots. You have provided me with invaluable opportunities to connect to my Athabascan heritage, including the annual World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (WEIO) that you host every year. Through WEIO, I have learned athleticism, discipline and focus. Each game carries a story or history, and through these stories and histories I have learned how my ancestors survived in the extreme arctic conditions of northern Alaska.

After my first WEIO games in 2006, I knew I would never leave you. I wanted to continue to compete in the games and become a positive role model in the Alaska Native community the way others had been for me. I wanted to spend my life in a place where opportunities to grow closer to my heritage are present every day, and where I can continue to grow and learn surrounded by your wilderness.

I've traveled all over the world, yet every time I am away I long to return to you. Every season brings a different adventure and unique beauty, but nothing compares to the sights and scents of late summer. When the leaves turn brilliant shades of red and yellow, the air grows crisp and cranberries scent the air, I like to sit near the river at Pioneer Park and breathe deep, knowing I will never find another place on earth that is so much a part of who I am.