Eagle succeeding in canicross

Posted Oct. 30, 2009, at 11:39 p.m.

Cross-country runner, mother of two, sleddog racer, bodybuilder, self-employed house painter, and personal trainer… Whew.

If Christina Eagle wasn’t already doing enough things to be considered a renaissance woman, becoming a member of the United States National Canicross team should do it.

Well, perhaps an explanation of what canicross is would help first. Canicross (a combination of the words canine and cross country) is a sport in which distance runners race at least 2½ miles along with their dogs, which are tethered to the runners via a leash cinched around the waist.

Despite competing in her first season and having just five races to her credit, the Osborn resident is one of a select group of five athletes who will represent her country while competing in the 15th International Federation of Sleddog Sports Dryland World Championships in Saguenay, Quebec, this weekend.

The four-day, four-sport event involving teams from 17 countries started Thursday and continues through Sunday.

The 38-year-old Eagle and her 2-year-old mixed breed named Spongebob Square Pants — the whole litter was named after the cast of characters from the show — will compete in a 2½-kilometer race Saturday and a 5½K race on Sunday in the town located on a fjord about a two-hour drive north from Quebec City.

“I wish we could go now! I’m champing at the bit, literally,” Eagle said, hours before her 10-hour drive to Saguenay. “I feel really good about it. I haven’t felt this fast since I was in college. In my training, dieting and sleeping, everything’s been coming together perfectly.”

The fact Eagle is even running at all is astounding. The record-setting high school and Springfield (Mass.) College distance runner faced a future without running after undergoing back surgery to cut out some discs eight years ago.

“I had back surgery in 2001 and they said I shouldn’t run again,” said Eagle, who also has exercise-induced asthma. “I started lifting weights more and that really helped. That got me strong enough where I could run again.”

In the meantime, she had grown to enjoy lifting and bodybuilding, but running remained her first love.

“When I turned 30, I started competing in bodybuilding and took time off from running,” she said. “Seven years ago I got an “Idiot’s Guide to Mushing” book, switched to sled dog racing, and I’m still doing it. I really love it.”

The two-time CanAm Crown Sled Dog Race competitor was introduced to canicross last year after a friend and fellow musher told her about it.

“I was going to do it last year, but didn’t really train too hard for it. I won one race and had an Achilles’ [heel] tear,” she said. “I was able to do sleddog racing, but didn’t do canicross again until April in Ellsworth.”

Now Eagle calls it her new favorite sport.

“I want to stick with this for years to come,” she said. “I love it. I really liked it right from the start, combining running with working with your dog.”

It’s not work to Spongebob — one of Eagle’s six dogs. The 83-pound half German short-haired pointer, quarter English pointer and quarter Alaskan husky has been Eagle’s race partner for all of her previous canicross races — all first-place finishes — and will attempt to go 6-for-6.

“I’ve chosen him because he has a super connection with me and has always wanted to be out in front of me,” said the Weymouth, Mass., native who moved to Osborn eight years ago. “The dogs can go 30 miles an hour, so you go as fast as you can run, but you need a dog who can follow your commands and adjusts well.

“Spongebob checks on me and my progress to make sure I’m OK, but if I’m all right, he just wants to keep going.”

Eagle’s inclusion on the U.S. Dryland Championship team resulted from a friend’s urging.

“A friend of mine is the president of the Mushing USA committee and she urged me to apply, so I sent in my race record and times and the committee voted to accept me,” she explained.

Eagle’s success in both canicross and sleddog racing has earned her sponsorship. She credited Ellsworth businesses EBS, Jim’s Auto Repair and Friends and Family Market, Amherst General Store, and Porky Sue’s Place in Waltham for helping her greatly with their support.

Neither of Eagle’s daughters (Ayana, age 10 and Ciara, 13) have caught the racing bug yet, but they do love to help out their mother with the dogs.

“They’re not as competitive as I am,” she said. “They like to hang out with the dogs, who are more like pets to them.”

This is Eagle’s favorite time of the year as it’s the end of one of her favorite sport’s seasons and approaching the start of the other.

“Oh, I LOVE it,” she said.

And what happens during her six-month offseason from mid-March through August?

“I go through withdrawal,” Eagle said with a laugh.

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