Reflection On The 2017 IFSS Winter Dogsled World Championship

Written by Tegan Legge
4 Dog Sled Race - by Dan Mathieu @danmathieu 4 Dog Sled Race - by Dan Mathieu @danmathieu
 

What started for me as a potential spam email over two years ago, from our local hometown hero Karen Koehler (a world-renowned skijorer), has lead me on this incredibly wild ride to present day, “post World Sled Dog Championship.”

As the dust settles, the final dog trucks pull out of the yard and the officials all give me hugs and congratulations for a race well run! I won’t lie – there were “some” tears.  The parking lot seems so empty after having over 850 dogs and 135 competitors with their teams of dog handlers and family members.  As we clean up, the smiles of the volunteers and Haliburton Forest staff over the last 10 days help me through the day.

I check my emails and local reporter Darren Lum of the Haliburton Echo asks me “What will you remember the IFSS (International Federation of Sleddog Sports) World Championship for?” This is tough only in the sense of where do I start and where do I end?

I will remember the following…

The first time Peter Schleifenbaum, then-Manager of Haliburton Forest, and I met with Karen and her pure enthusiasm for the sport. Her charismatic demeanour had us all buzzing and within a couple months we had put our bid in to host the championship!

Sleddog Logo HOSTED BY Haliburton ForestPeter saying, “Don’t put too much effort into the bid we aren’t likely going to get it.” Ha! Challenge accepted. 

The feeling of pure excitement when we found out in February 2015 that our bid had been picked.

Hosting a Fun Race in January 2016 to see just what we were in store for. Receiving racer feedback was extremely valuable and truly helped to learn that we need to widen our trails, not use red spray paint at the start/finish line, how dog trucks might be organized in the dog yard, etc.

One beautiful fall day, ATVing the possible race routes with Karen, and dreaming about how dozens of mushers would make the same trek with their dogs in the not-so-distant future.

Jim and Nessie, Tegan's daugherMeeting with, emailing and phoning Jim Cunningham, Race Judge, time and time again, to ensure that all the puzzle pieces came together just right.

Bringing my family for a “work” weekend to the Bristol Dryland Canadian Championships October 2016 to witness first hand what a world class event is all about. In October 2015, Denis Rozon and his crew at Timberland Tours hosted the Bristol Dryland World Championships. As I stood at the start line, Jim would come over and tell me little tips and tricks “now see how many ATVs and volunteers it takes to bring the teams to the line” and “this is how the relay works.” This is also the first time I met Ernst Hediger and Martin Riopel and knew I needed to recruit these men to keep our dog yard organized and the racers on time!

Dave Blakey, by Hermann ThoeneThe few months leading up to the event, meeting with Dave Blakey (our Trail Boss), Cameron Ferguson (our Volunteer Coordinator and Checkpoint Boss), Anna Schleifenbaum (our Swag Designer), Diane Kyle (our Cookhouse Restaurant Manager), Phil Primavera (our Jack-Of-All-Trades), the My Haliburton Highlands Tourism Stakeholder Group, and so many others.

The two weeks leading up to the event, so many late nights in the office with Cameron making sure everything was just right!  

The anticipation and worry that came just before the Officials arrived onsite. Did we miss anything? Are they going to like what we’ve set up? When will the final schedule be decided?

First Sat Trail previewThe Saturday before the races, meeting Nils Finsrud (Race Marshall), Olle Rosen (Race Judge), and Eeva Aijala (IFSS VP of Sport), for the first time. Right away, off on snowmobiles we went to visit the trails. 

As we went through some trails but mainly over lakes I could feel the mood diminish in the group.  “Dogs don’t like lakes because they are boring,” is all I could hear them saying in my head. But we pushed on through the King & James trail, when I noticed Olle waiving his hands for me to stop. Dread sunk in. In my head I was thinking that would say, “The trails are too narrow, that corner was too tight.” Deep breath. Olle jumped off his sled and proclaimed, “This trail is fantastic!” At that point, I knew we were all going to work together quite well.

The first team leader meeting with 10 countries present and their worries, their excitement, and the comradery.

Opening Ceremonies where the athletes marched in with pride, waving their flags! Peter Schleifenbaum, former manager of Haliburton Forest, and Malcolm Cockwell, current manager of Haliburton Forest, welcomed the competitors and promised for incredible weather and more snow! Speeches and introductions were made.  

Jamie Schmale, MP of Haliburton, Kawartha Lakes, and Brock proclaimed the games open and the Haliburton Youth Ensemble brought pride and tears to our eyes when they sang our national anthem.  The party continued with local band Fifth Business and a big bonfire.

Volunteers at start/finish lineThe first day of competition, when we had to get 109 competitors to and from the start and finish line. The masterful way Martin, with help from Ernie, conducted his symphony of ATVs, dog handlers, and volunteers to ensure no one missed their start times.

The smiles, cheers and thank you’s as competitors came across the finish line and their awe of the amazing trail system they just experienced.

The pride that our trail crew – Dave Blakey (Trail Boss), Dale Lynn and Mike Real – had in making these the best trails the competitors have ever been on.

Our first medal ceremony! Medals were given, anthems were played and team pride was brimming! This is where Lena Boysen of Norway won her 24th Gold Medal in the 4 dog sprint.  She is the most decorated athlete in the history of the IFSS World Championship! 

Dog Power Movie ScreeningWhen my friend Rachael and I headed to the Wolf Centre via snowmobile. Happy we had done so since the parking lot was full of volunteer, racer and spectator vehicles all coming to see a screening of the Dog Power Movie. Once inside we were greeted by a packed theatre, with standing room only. 

Kale Casey (Producer) and Jordan Schevene (Director) introduced the film. There were tears, cheers and goosebumps for all those present!  After the movie Kale and Jordan asked how many people in the room saw themselves in the movie and at least 50% of the crowd lifted their hands.  

Then, they proceeded to make a special presentation showing how one individual showcased in the movie has already benefited and this was Taina Teras of Sweden. A hush came over the crowd as Taina made her way down the aisle to the front of the room in her wheelchair. Once at the front another gentleman joined her and they presented a prototype that he had been building of a racing sled that Taina hopes to be able to use in future Winter World Championships. The crowd cheered! You have to see the movie to really understand why this was such a profound moment during the event.

How key volunteers like Barbara Kraus, Riener Arnold, Joan Middleton, and Gabrielle Holmes stepped in to fill holes where needed and take on some key roles: vet check sign in, volunteer liaison, micro chip scanning team lead, etc., allowing for Cameron and I to take on other duties and breath much easier.

At the second medal presentation, Eeva leaning over explaining that the young lady who just won a bronze medal, Karoline Conradi Oksnevad, in the Pulka class was supposed to compete as a junior but decided to compete amongst the elite.

Team Canada Leaders Sarah Warford and Murielle Gouriou Ovenden presenting Lars Lindh and Taina Teras a limited-edition Canada 150th Celebration Snow Hook designed and built by the ever so talented Murielle herself for Lars’ incredible sportsmanship. Although in lead of his race, Lars had stopped to help a fellow Canadian Musher, which cost him time. In the end, he still won first place in the 8 dog sprint, but his gesture will never be forgotten.

 

Saturday and Sunday being jammed packed with the most exciting races of the event: mass starts, relays, combined events. Our volunteers continually moving and being flexible as human barriers to ensure dogs went the right direction and spectators stayed off the courses. If you didn’t get a chance to view these races in person check out the following videos:

Sunday as the races came to an end, the Swedish Team leaders came to say goodbye, to thank me but also to ask when we will put our next bid in. Words cannot describe how I felt at this moment. It was perfectly clear that our crew had done an incredible job.

DSC 0224 edited-1Monday is when things started to wind down. Fewer teams were onsite but the thrill of the race still in the air. Around 9:00AM, seven teams headed out to complete on an intense 81 kilometre run, while at 10:00AM, two teams headed out for a 50 kilometre run. At the end of the day, the competitors were stunned by the beauty of the trails, the environment and tired from all the hills.  

During dinner, Michel Lecuyer explained to Martin and I in French using very enthusiastic hand gestures that back at home trees are “only this little” touching his thumbs and index fingers together to make a circle but here the trees are “this big,” while pretending to hug a tree but not being able to touch his hands together. Others reported excitedly that they saw signs of wolves, foxes, squirrels, and more.

“The mid distance mushers are a different breed, than the sprint racers,” explained Nils. “They look around and take in all that is around them.”

At the end of the three heats, Jacob Golton of Canada, more specifically from just around the corner near Bancroft, Ontario, taking the gold medal with a very proud mother, father and fiancé by his side.

Our final Musher Banquet hosted at the Cookhouse Restaurant where Diane, her son Calum and their crew had been keeping us well fed all week. It was my turn to stand up and speak. As tears swelled in my eyes with pride over an event well executed, sadness of seeing it all come to an end and happiness that I was able to be a part of such an incredible event, it was with honour that I was able to thank all those involved in making this event even possible. Particularly to Jim to whom words will never describe my gratitude for the role he played in executing this event. After presenting Jim with a plaque he announced the medalists as I presented the competitors with their medals. 

Tegan LeggeOh! Canada was played for the last time and then we invited Nils up to say a few words. He looked right at me and said “Tegan you are the best!” followed with a big hug. He then turned to the crowd and declared the IFSS World Championships closed.

I will always remember saying good bye to Jim Thursday after the event, when he whispered in my ear all chocked up as we hugged good bye "This is one for the record books."

By Tegan Legge, Event Organizer and Project Manager