During a year when Longyearbyen experienced far more “typhus” than usual, Elise Strømseng was among those who suffered the most. But she also at the forefront of the many who helped relieve the misery.
Strømseng, won this year’s Typus Statuette, presented to “a resident whose work has kept us out of typhus” (the illness being an old Svalbard reference to all things bad from “poorly paid piecework to a sour beer.)”
The award was presented during the annual Syttende Mai gala Tuesday night at Kulturhuset. The evening’s other major award was presented to Frida Krystad, 15, winner of this year’s annual youth cultural activities grant.
Although Strømseng’s day job is a study advisor in Arctic geology at The University Centre in Svalbard, her community activities include co-organizing the annual Solfetuka festival, Longyearbyen Dog Club and annual Trapper’s Trail sleddog race, and a music teacher and performer in a variety of settings.
Among the most noteworthy of the latter is as the violinist for the longtime Longyearbyen bluegrass band Blåmyra, which lost one of its founding members – Atle Husby, 42, a multi.instrumentalist and vocalist also involved in numerous local music groups – when he was one of two people killed in the avalanche last Dec. 19. The tragedy was the most shocking event in a year filled with local setbacks, such as the near total shutdown of mining by Store Norske, as well as an enormous amount of effort by residents to help and comfort individuals affected.
“It has been a very tough year,” she said after the gala. “Suddenly one of my best friends got ripped away in the avalanche. Blåmyra is one of the longest-lasting groups here and to lose of our members was quite painful.”
At the same time, Strømseng said she’s inspired by how the community responded to a period of crisis and believes it is that spirit – which instills itself in newcomers and old-timers alike – is why she’s optimistic about Longyearbyen’s future as a community.
“If there is a positive aspect of the turnover, it is that enthusiasts will come,” she said during her acceptance speech. “New roots takes root and old branches spring forth.”
While it’s possible a much larger list of candidates might have been in contention for this year’s Tyfus award, the 43rd presented, it’s impossible to say because the local Syttende Mai never discloses such details precisely to avoid such speculation. The winner is notified a couple of week before the ceremony, since he or she is expected to give a reasonably coherant acceptance speech, and Strømseng said her initial reaction to the phone call was shock.
“I got quiet, which I very seldom am,” she said. “I was like, ‘thank you.’ I think that’s what I said.”
Krystad got no such advance notification, so she understandably utterly a few improvised words of thanks as she accepted her award. She said afterward she suspected she might be the winner when Longyearbyen Mayor Arild Olsen mentioned a somewhat lower profile activity (compared to say, music and theater performance, a common mainstay of past winners) she first got involved in when she was four months old.
“When they started talking about the swimming part I thought ”Oh, my God,'” she said.
Olsen, in his remarks, noted Krystad is one of Norway’s best breaststroke competitors in her age group.
She said the local swimming group isn’t especially active officially, typically participating in a couple of competitions on the mainland each year. But it’s literally been a lifelong interest for her, taking her first dip during baby swimming classes only a few months after she was born and participating in regular swimming classes starting at the age of five.
“I like to compete and I think this a very exciting thing to compete at,” she said.
Krystad won a 10,000 kroner grant for the award and said she plans to use the money to further her swimming activities.