JUNIOR MUSHERS: SPORTSMANSHIP PREVAILS AT THE ARCTIC WINTER GAMES

Featured in the May/June 2006 Issue: Rex Jones walked up and down his line of hounds whispering words of encouragement on the first day of the Arctic Winter Games dog mushing competition. “C’mon, Guido, you can do it,” he called over to a young black two-year-old at the end of the line. “Just go, Guido, it’s not that hard.” But Jones wasn’t encouraging his dogs to run faster. He was trying to motivate them to, well, to relieve their bowels before they hit the trail. Training a dog to poop on command is challenging at best. “Just like any person, a dog will run better if they’re comfortable.” Jones said. You see, Jones himself wasn’t racing, but the owner of Arctic Paw Kennels and Sled Dog School in Chugiak, Alaska, brought a couple of his students to the Arctic Winter Games which took place in early March on the Kenai Peninsula and they, with the help of Jones’ guidance and dogs, brought home some medals from the Kenai. The medals are called ulus at the AWG because they are molded into the shape of the ancient Inuit tool. “I teach kids from the age of four to the age of 17 to race my dogs,” said Jones adding that most of his race dogs are hounds from Sweden, Norway and Germany. Jones brought one of his protégés, Hannah Summers, to the AWG. “I help kids who need a little direction in life and boys and girls who need something they can be responsible for.” The Arctic Winter Games are a multi-sporting event that happen every two years and include teenaged athletes and cultural performers from Alaska, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Northern Quebec, Northern Alberta, Russia, Greenland and the Lapland region of Scandinavia. The Games began in the early 1970s and have since grown to include 2,100 athletes competing in 20 different sports including skiing – cross-country and alpine – badminton, soccer, basketball, Inuit Games, snowboarding and dog mushing. The young dog drivers competing at this year’s AWG are no exception to the old musher’sadage ‘The Code of the North’ which, simply put, means when another musher is in need, you help out. Even though they were competing against each other, Jones lent a sled, two dogs and all the fixin’s to Team Yukon’s Dylan Salvisberg, whose dad was delayed on the way to the Kenai after hitting a moose with a truck full of sled dogs. “These Games are about competition, but they’re also about teaching the kids to work together and meet new people,” said Jones. For Whitehorse, Yukon, musher SophiaDaniels, she finally had a clean run at the Arctic Winter Games. And she’s got the silver ulu to prove it. In her six years as an AWG participant, Daniels had yet to grace the podium in an individual race. In the first of competition at the Peninsula Sled Dog Race Association trails in Soldotna, the 17-year-old veteran finished the 10-kilometre, six-dog race in 21 minutes and 51 seconds, sandwiched between two NWT mushers who took gold and bronze. “We had a really short training season and even then, therewas so little snow that I couldn’t run more than six dogs at a time when I usually run 10,” Daniels said. “But my dogs did an awesome job and I’m really pleased with their performance.” Daniels has 24 dogs in her Greyridge Kennels and she decided to try two young inexperienced males, Delta and Snap, in lead for the big race. “This is their first year racing and I was so impressed,” she said, adding that she’s been mushing for 11 years. “All my training and racing led up to this, so it’s nice to see these results when you work your butt off all season.” For fellow Yukon ulu-winner Ben Kinvig, the Arctic Winter Games are also the focal point to his season. On the first day of racing, Kinvig took gold in the 7.5-kilometre, four-dog sprint. Both Kinvig and Daniels had to travel great distances just to get some races on their runners before these Games. They traveled to British Columbia and Ben went to Anchorage for thejunior worlds earlier this year. Owning and racing dogs is a big responsibility for anyone, but for a teenager, that responsibility includes full days at school and studying. Before and after school Kinvig, with of course the help of his family members, is busy with dog-yard chores and training. It’s a lot of work, but having Arctic Games’ gold around his neck made it all worthwhile. “It’s not like table tennis, where when the game is done you hang up your paddle and relax,” said Kinvig.“With mushing you always have the dogs to take care of,” he added after claiming gold with Butch and Finder in lead. “We trained so much for this and traveled all over to races to get ready for Arctic Winter Games.” In total, Kinvig traveled close to 10,000 miles to various Outside races to prepare. Training and racing has taken a lot of these young mushers’ time, and said Kinvig’s father and Team Yukon coach Darren, it has also taught them valuable lessons they might not otherwise have learned. “Oh yeah, this keeps them right outta trouble,” Darren said. “They don’t have time to think about anything else. They’ve got dogs and dogs are 24-seven. We trained all year for this one but we don’t put pressure on them. It is all about having a clean run, but it’s also about having fun here.” The Yukon Junior Association of Mushers was started three years ago by Darren, SeanFitzGerald and Richard Anderson to get more young dog drivers involved in the racing side of the sport. “It was big at the time, but now a lot of those juniors have grown up and left the sport, so there’s only about seven of us left,” Darren said. One of the graduates from YJAM is Whitehorse’s Kiara Adams, who attempted her first Yukon Quest this year but scratched after getting caught in the notorious Eagle Summit blizzard. “We put this association together to be able to race together and enable families to remain in the sport because with the dog food bills and everything it’s really hard to keep a kennel,” said Darren. “It’s easier for families to stay in dogs with a little cooperation. Now we’re trying to get the smaller communities in the Yukon involved more because it’s a lifestyle and a healthy one at that.” Trail conditions made training hard, not only in the Yukon, but around Fairbanks as well. Wendy Callis, who joined Jones in the coaching duties for Team Alaska, brought two junior mushers to the AWG. With little snow, training for the Games was difficult, she said, adding that the dogs had very little miles on them. “Essentially, we’re just for the experience so it doesn’t matter how they place,” Callis said. “We just here for some fun and dog mushing.” Juvenile Class4 dog (7.5 kilometers)1. Ben Kinvig (YT) 14:182. Rebecca Baxter (NWT) 15:123. Hannah Summers (AK) 15:424. Gracie Callis (AK) 16:045. Sam Palfrey (NWT) 16:386. Dylan Salvisberg (YT) 18:485 dog (10 kilometers) 1. Rebecca Baxter (NWT) 19:342. Gracie Callis (AK) 19:563. Ben Kinvig (YT) 20:134. Hannah Summers (AK) 20:445. Sam Palfrey (NWT) 20:566. Dylan Salvisberg (YT) 22:46Team Competition 4 dog (7.5 kilometers)1. Team Northwest Territories Total Time 27:56Sam Palfrey 14:22Rebecca Baxter 13:342. Team Alaska Total Time 28:13Gracie Callis 13:56Hannah Summers 14:173. Team Yukon Total Time 29:17Ben Kinvig 13:39Dylan Salvisberg 15:38Junior Class6 dog (10 kilometers)1. Alyn Charlie (NWT) 20:582. Sophie Daniels (YT) 21:513. Aryn Charlie (NWT) 22:324. Shane Strausbargh (AK) 23:045. Beth Callis (AK) 23:236. Charmaine Christiansen (YK) 27:267 Dog (13 kilometers)1. Alyn Charlie (NWT) 24:212. Beth Callis (AK) 24:243. Sophie Daniels (YT) 24:544. Shane Strausbargh (AK) 25:355. Aryn Charlie (NWT) 25:496. Charmaine Christiansen (YT) 31:20Team Competition, 6 dogs (10 kilometers)1. Team Alaska Total time 39:33Beth Callis 19:18Shane Stausbargh20:152. Team Northwest Territories Total Time 41:21Alan Charlie 19:03Aryn Charlie 22:183. Team Yukon Total Time 43.42Sophie Daniels 20:22Charmaine Christiansen 23:20

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