Featured in the Nov/Dec 2005 Issue:
The 2004 Arctic Winter Games were held in Ft. McMurray, Alberta, Canada. This multisport international event is held every two years and features winter sports from several northern cultures. Members of team Alaska’s junior mushing division, along with coach Ron Kilian, shared their experience and perspective on this year’s games and the Junior World Championships.
On February 23 I went to the Arctic Winter Games. This event includes 20 different sports, among them Dene games, arctic sports and dog mushing. Countries within the Arctic Circle can participate. This year there were 10 different teams from 5 different countries: Alaska (the U.S.), Alberta, the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Nunavik (Canada), Greenland, team Sami (Sweden), Yamal (northern Siberia), and Magadan (Russia).
My brother and I and two other girls were chosen to represent Alaska in dog mushing. There were 367 other athletes representing Alaska in other sports. My whole family went on this trip, including my grandparents who came from Oregon.
The Arctic Winter Games started with the opening ceremony on Saturday the 28th. This ceremony took place in a huge tent at the ATCO Plaza. The teams, spectators, officials and the 5000 volunteers were all there. To officially begin the Arctic Winter Games, someone lit a torch, which was brought in by a dog sled. There was also music, dancing and speeches done by important people having to do with the games. We were able to meet people from other countries. I met some people from Magadan, Russia, which was where I was born. It was really neat because I was able to talk to them in Russian.
The Arctic Winter Games was a special and wonderful experience for me. I loved meeting so many people from other countries, especially people from Russia. I felt lucky that I was able to communicate with them and make friends. I am hoping to do this again in another two years in Kenai Peninsula. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and it was worth missing so much school!
At the opening ceremonies, which were held in a big tent, there was a huge crowd in the bleachers that made plenty of noise!
A typical racing day (of which there were three) began for me at 6:30 when I got up to help drop the dogs. After watering the dogs, we ate breakfast. We raced at Anzac once and the Snye canal twice. At the track, Sonya and I would help get all our dogs watered, harnessed and hooked to the sleds. Then we would take the team and whoever was on the sled, to the starting line. When the timers said go, those dogs went!
My first race, at Anzac, went great. On that day, it was about -7 degrees F with the wind chill. I went out fifth, and even though Beth Callis and a musher from team Yukon passed me, I came in fifth. It was pretty good placing to start out with.
On the second race, held at the Snye, it was bright and sunny out at the track, so we took the dogs for a walk. Gosh, they sure loved being there! We went back to the truck and talked to all the people that wanted to talk about mushing and people who wanted to pet the dogs. They were delighted to see and pet sled dogs. A couple of people took pictures of the dogs and us. On that second day it was a partner event, so that when we finished, Beth’s and my time would be combined to give us our overall time and placement, which was gold! Beth ran so well and had such fast dogs, that I just had to ask her, ‘Hey, your dogs are great. Do you want to switch with mine?’
One of the things I learned was to relax on the trail. This I’d learned on the third day of racing after I fell over on the track because I had not been loose enough. The dogs did not stop, and Marmot and Carson, determined to finish, dragged me almost completely to the finish line, but I got up right before the line, righted the sled and finished to collect a bronze. I know I could have done better, but I’m still glad I got back up and finished upright. I’m also glad the dogs did not stop but kept pulling the sled on, with me holding on and trying to get up. I was very proud of them.
The 2004 Junior World Championships, held in Anchorage, Alaska, was my first major race of the season. I raced in the 5-dog, 6-mile class over three days of racing. My team consisted of 5 young dogs, one who was racing only her third race in lead. Navy, a 2-year-old male pointer cross, ran lead flawlessly all three days; Jealous, a yearling female German shorthair pointer, ran lead all three days as well, although not quite so flawlessly. I also ran Desperado, a yearling male pointer cross, in swing; Khaki, Navy’s brother, raced in wheel with Cupid, a 2-year-old male pointer cross. The first day I did not have any stops, although I had two passes, which Navy and Jealous handled like pros. Jealous, however, was scared of the two large culverts and a small bridge on the trail and held back through both culverts and over the bridge, which cost me quite a bit of time. I was surprised to find that I was in first place by 7 seconds when I finished! On the second day I had a clean run, but the dogs were somewhat flat, not much ‘get up and go,’ which was probably due to the heat. Jealous went through the culverts and over the bridge without any problems this time, which made me very happy! I extended my lead to about one minute overall. When the third and final day came, I was very nervous! I hoped I would have a good, clean run, without any stops (Jealous has a bad habit of stopping to relieve herself while running). When we left the start line, the dogs were flying; they felt stronger than they had the first day! Then Jealous decided it was time for a little break, not once, not twice, but three times! I was worried that she was going to cost me the race, but when I finished, I found that my time was only one second slower than my first day time and that I had won the class! I was very excited, since it was my first time to win a championship race; although I had placed in the top three numerous times. I was proud of the dogs, who had shown how well they worked together as a team.
Two days after we came home from Anchorage, my mom, Wendy, and I left for Ft. McMurray and the Arctic Winter Games. We took 17 dogs, two sleds, and enough stuff to overflow our truck. It took us two and a half days of nearly nonstop driving, catching a few hours’ sleep each night in the cab of the truck.
Arctic Winter Games was an invaluable experience, both for me and for my dogs. My teammates; Andrei Cavens, Sonya Cavens and Monique Lambert, were all great and lots of fun to be around. I met many other people in connection with the games who were all helpful, friendly and made me feel right at home in Ft. McMurray. But the thing that made it all possible was my dogs, who gave me a wonderful opportunity to meet people and travel to an international event.
Ron Kilian – Arctic Winter Games Team Alaska Dog Mushing Sport Coordinator/Coach
Andrei and Sonya Cavens and their coaches Rick and Mari Cavens, Beth Callis and coach Wendy Callis, along with Monique Lambert and myself as her coach, took home five gold ulus, two silver ulus and one bronze ulu. Beth Callis swept the three juvenile races, taking home three gold ulus. Andrei Cavens in the team event with Beth also won a gold ulu, as well as a bronze ulu on the last day. In that race, Andrei tipped over four times, including the inbound chute, with the crowd cheering, “Hang on!” He provided some thrills for the crowd, missing a silver ulu by 8 seconds. Sonya won a silver ulu in the team event with Monique Lambert and came on strong the last day to win a gold ulu. Monique Lambert on the last day of racing had to hook down because of a tangle and her dogs popped the snow hooks. She made a grab for the sled, tipping over and was dragged with a dislocated shoulder, but hung on and got back up on the runners. She declined trailside assistence, saying she came all this way to race and wanted to finish. Monique was awarded a fair play (sportsmanship) pin for her post-race demeanor. Team Alaska mushers and coaches were also given a fair play pin for their helpfulness to other mushers. Alaskans can be proud of the dog mushing team that represented the state this year at the games.