Maine mushers to compete in championships

Posted Jan. 09, 2009, at 9:19 p.m.

ST. JUST DE BRETENIERES, Quebec — For nine days in January the eyes of the mushing world will be on a tiny village on the Quebec-Maine border.

Up to 400 mushers and 2,000 dogs from 25 countries are expected in St. Just de Bretenieres, Quebec, for the International Federation of Sleddog Sports 2009 World Championships Jan. 17-25.

Among them are 10 Maine members of Team Mushing USA, lead by Sara Vanderwood of Oxford.

Making the trip to Quebec with Vanderwood are Ben Thomas and Alex Thomas of Blanchard Township, Bruce Swan of Springfield, Josh Mecure of Moose River, Heather Brannen of Poland, Sadie Theriault of Jackman, Tim MacMahon of Harrison and Norway mushers Betsy McGettigan and Aisling Shepard.

Rounding out the team are mushers from Alaska, Colorado, New York, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Pennsylvania.

All qualified during regional events over the past year.

The drivers and their dog teams, representing the best their countries have to offer in the sport, will compete for a total purse of $40,000 in sprint, mid-distance, skijor and pulka races.

“This is a very big event with many mushers coming from many countries,” Max Vidal, president of the organizing committee, said.

While the host club L’International de traineau a chiens de la Riviere Daaquam holds a major sprint race every year, this marks the first time the IFSS has held a world championship in Quebec.

Racers take off from the village of St. Just de Bretenieres along the Daaquam River and run through the Appalachian Regional Park.

On tap are men’s, women’s and junior races in one-dog pulka and skijoring; four, six, eight and unlimited class sprints; and six-, eight- and 12-dog mid-distance races over trails running from 8 to 54 kilometers.

“There are 60 race starts,” Vidal said. “For us, it’s the same as if the Olympics came to Quebec City.”

For the two- and four-legged athletes, it might as well be an Olympic event.

“From a musher’s point of view, participation in these races is likely the best competition you will ever face,” said Vanderwood, the IFSS North American director. “Generally a country will try to send the top teams in each class.”

Vanderwood, a longtime musher whose Nooksack Racing Kennel runs out of Oxford, is president of Mushing USA.

For the mushers and their dogs, Vanderwood said, it’s a near once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“I’ve been fortunate to race at this level in Alaska, Belgium and Italy on dry land and snow,” she said. “It’s the one time that all these athletes come together.”

In Quebec, this means racing against teams from Canada, Finland, Sweden, Mexico, Japan, South Korea, Norway, New Zealand, France, Spain, South Africa, Argentina and Jamaica.

That’s right, Jamaica.

In fact, the Jamaica Sleddog Federation was the first IFSS member to send its entry for the upcoming world championship.

Damion Robb will compete in the four- and six-dog sprint classes with dogs from Ken and Donna Davis’ Elfstone Kennel in Duluth.

“People really should take the time to come and watch,” Vanderwood said. “I was sent up [last year] to look at the trails and it’s a beautiful area.”

For more information on the IFSS World Championships in Quebec, go to www.daaquam2009.com.

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