Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Fine Sport Of Dog Sledding

Jake is carrying on his family tradition of sledding; a very long family tradition. His ancestors used dogsleds to travel and hunt and generally survive. Jake is competing in a world competition. The modern use of a traditional activity. Jake and his family are Ojibwe, associated with the White Earth and Red Lake tribes, and live on the reservation. 

Below is a letter from Jake's father, asking all of us to take this opportunity to help a Native youth who is doing good, bringing back a traditional activity.  Those of us who have participated in dog activities and competitions know that it isn't cheap or easy, that it takes persistence, courage, time and money. If this letter stirs your heart as it did mine, please contribute to this you man's dream. 

I'm late in posting this - the race was run today, and...JAKE WON! He is now a world champion. The debt remains, however, and the dogs are expensive to maintain. Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated.

A unique opportunity has presented itself to our family and our sled dogs. Last March, my son Jaycob and one of our dogs, Diesel Smokes, qualified for the World Championship International Federation of Sled Sports one dog ski-jor event to be held in Daaquam, Quebec. While he qualified in a pro class race, because of the difference in age rules in international races, he will have to compete in the junior class at this event. More info on the race can be found here.

About 400 teams, 2,500 dogs, and drivers from 5 continents will be in attendance. I really didn't want to go to this race, much of it has to do with financial reasons, but there were others as well.  At the end of the day yesterday, none of those reasons were working. 

So now I am asking for your help to make this happen. I told my son that if he was going to go to this race, he would have to find the money. The bare bones budget for this trip to Daaquam and back is about $1,000. It is about fourteen hundred miles one way, numerous nights in motels, plus food. He found the money, but had to borrow part of it, and while he was committed to paying it back, I feel I should help him. He is still a senior in high school, works part time, and competes in high school athletics.

Here is why this is important. My son brought home his first four sled dogs almost six years ago. Our kennel now includes about thirty dogs. Since those first four dogs, we have competed in numerous races throughout the region. Sometimes we did OK, other times, not. This is our first opportunity to compete in a world championship race. I can't say if we will be able to compete at this level again. Next year Jaycob goes off to college. I would like to afford him this opportunity. Both of us have made many personal and financial sacrifices to get to this point.

Last night I realized that this is not about the competition, or the sacrifices. It is more about the sense of humility and the greatness of the dogs that keeps me and my family in this. Five years ago, at our very first race, Jaycob entered an eight dog pro-class event. This was a big race with many of the most competitive sled dog kennels in North America coming together to compete for cash and other prizes. Jaycob's rational for entering a pro-class for his first race was simple, if I am going to get beat, I am going to get beat by the best of them. Well, he was beaten by most of the teams that day, but that was the beginning of a long and sometimes difficult training and racing routine. 

What I got out of that race, and every one since was this, a tremendous amount of pride that we are even able to do this. But there is also a great sense of humility each time we pull the pin and the barking and howling mass of dog energy that is straining in their harnesses to get going suddenly goes quiet and all I can hear is Jaycob whistling and talking to his dog team and the sound of the sled runners in the snow. There is nothing like watching my son, and the dogs, some of whom we have raised from puppies, head down the train, sometimes in some of the most brutal of weather conditions North America has to offer. At one race, the race officials shut down the race for the day after Jaycob's class got across the finish line out of concern for the safety of the dogs and drivers. Visibility was almost zero by the time my son and his dog tam crossed the finish line that day.

Sometimes there is also an extreme sense of gratitude, now that it is the lead dogs that seem to have some kind of sixth or seventh sense that assures me that my son and the rest of the dog team will make it back safely. There are lead dogs and there are dogs who will run in front. We have been blessed with the opportunity to have at least one great leader in our kennel. He is gone now, but it is one of his offspring that will pull Jaycob at this race in Quebec.

I am asking for your support in order to pull this off. We are leaving tomorrow, January 15 and will hopefully return on Tuesday, the 20th. Any size donation will be welcome and much appreciated. Please send your donation to:

Robert Shimek
33740 Mary Yellowhead Road
Ogema, MN 56569

No comments: