SportsEvents Magazine

MAY 2018

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May 2018 90 www.sportseventsmagazine.com t SPORT Report explained. So, they clipped each other's bibs over their parkas and turned off their headlamps. "Above us, the Northern Lights were a pulsing, liquid river of red, green and purple light," Pace said. "They were so close it felt like we could reach up and stick our hands directly into the light. The moon was three-quarters full and it lit up a riot of white-shouldered mountains that descended down to the frozen sea." They could see the lights of Nome dotting the shoreline in the far distance. "We decided that once we reached Front Street, we would stop, line up and race each other the last few hundred yards to the finish line," she said. The dogs barked impatiently until, finally, they stepped onto the runners of their dogsleds and descended Cape Nome with headlamps still off. "The auroras reflected in the snow and the shadows of our long, sinuous dog teams stretched out ahead of us, a smooth, singular unit by now," she said. When they turned onto Front Street, they lined up their teams side-by-side. A handful of people waited to watch them finish, mostly parents and partners and a few mushing friends who had already finished the race. "And off we went, sprinting behind our sleds, pushing as hard as we could, a ridiculous effort for finishing 56th and 57th but fun nonetheless," Pace said. They crossed the finish line one second apart. After checking in, her dogs were still lunging into their harnesses and howling like they wanted to run another 1,000 miles but after 11 days on the runners, Pace was ready for more than a couple of hours of sleep in a row "and a warm bed. And beer!" While dogsled racing may not have the largest number of participants of all snow sports, races such as the iconic Iditarod test a musher's resolve. The number of competitors varies and can be anywhere between 60 and 96 teams, said Ashleigh Ebert of Thompson & Co. Public Relations in Anchorage. Teams average 16 dogs at the start and can finish with as few as five. (Editor's Note: Dogs are dropped at checkpoints during the race for many reasons, includ- ing if a dog isn't feeling well, is injured or because races such as the Iditarod require mushers to finish with only those dogs that started the race.) The first Iditarod race began on March 3, 1973, with 34 teams; 22 teams finished 32 days later. In 2018, 52 teams finished the race, 15 scratched, Ebert said. Training for a 1,000-mile race like the Iditarod takes years, said Pace who, with her husband, Andy, runs Hey Moose! Kennel in Healy, Alaska. "First, you have to qualify by running hundreds of miles of shorter, 200- or 300- mile races," Pace said. "For Iditarod, you have to run 750 miles of qualifying races before you are allowed to sign up. For the Yukon Quest, you have to run 500 miles of qualifying races." That doesn't take into account the years it takes to build a team, she said. They started with four puppies in 2011 and built their team over the next five years. "The amount of work it takes to build a sled-dog kennel from the ground up is nearly immeasurable," Pace said. "It is a true labor of love and no musher will ever get back the money they invested." It takes a lot of hard work but it's also full of incredible adventure and built on the special bond developed with the dogs, she said. Each year, training starts in August for the Yukon Quest in February, then the Iditarod in March. Training starts by running just two miles at a time and works up to running 70 or 80 miles straight. "The dogs are incredible athletes and the farther they run, the stronger they get," Pace said. Sled dogs have an unbelievable ability to recover after long miles and get stronger instead of weaker. Not so for humans. "It's really more about getting the humans ready than the dogs. They are just incomparable athletes. The humans are the weakest link in the team. But that's what we are: a team," she said. "We've been through it all together. We trust each other with our lives." About 20 million people participate each year in more popular winter sports such as skiing and snowboarding. But there are other, less-well-known athletic competi- tions that are coming into their own. The USA Bobsled and Skeleton Federa- tion (USABS), for example, has 165 athlete members and five bobsled/skeleton annual tours: the World Cup, Intercontinental Cup, European Cup, North American Cup and Para World Cup. Each holds races around the world, said Kristen Gowdy of USABS. The highest-level World Cup holds eight races each season plus a World Championships or the Olympics if it's an Olympic year. "Those are on the international level but the U.S. program also holds national team Tommy Metz, center, leads Maxwell Dunne and Alex Mercier during the fifth stage of the ATSX Riders Cup in Bloomington, Minn., on Feb. 24, 2018. Mark Roe Photography

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