The first race of the year is always one looked upon with great anticipation. Unfortunately, this season we started the first race with anything but anticipation. Just 20 minutes prior to leaving for the race, one of our beloved team mates had a sudden heart attack while we were loading her. The sudden upbeat mood was quickly soured with sadness and grief as we helplessly tried to save her life to no avail. Suddenly, we were faced with a decision; do we go racing or not? 1 year of preparation and 19 dogs on the truck eagerly awaited our decision and we had less than a 1/2 hour to make it. It was a pressure, I had not been in before; grappling between emotion and what was best for the team. I did not have enough time to get my mind around this tragedy and had to regrettably pull my team out of the race in their best interest. Together, we made the decision to send the 2nd team, which needed to do this race in preparation for the Stage Stop. I was so torn and unsure of my decision, but realized that if I was not in the right frame of mind, it would not be fair to the dogs and in my world, “It’s all about the dogs.”
As I’ve had the opportunity to spend the weekend by myself with just the dogs, I’ve had a chance to just sit, think, grieve and reflect on things. I’ve come to realize that racing competitively can be very bittersweet for many reasons. These dogs have given me some of my greatest joys and some of my greatest heart aches. This particular dog that passed has been with me on my first two wins and was a shining star in our kennel. Hands down one of the most joyful, happy and loving dogs I’ve come to know. She loved what she did and she did it so well. It pains me to think that I’ll never get to watch her do it again. We had one last really, really good run together that morning; a magic carpet ride if you will. I showered her with admiration for such a good job. I am glad I’ll have that last run ingrained in my memory. She was truly one of the joys or the “sweet” parts I’ve come to experience in this sport.
Her loss inevitably led to heart ache or the “bitter” part the experience. I knew that if I raced without her I would be thinking the entire time of that morning run and I would probably not be able to stop crying. I sought solace last night in the arms of my fellow dogs. I walked around the yard and talked to each one. They knew. They knew something was missing and they tried to comfort me by licking my tears. I broke down at her kennel and recalled her crazy way of laying on the roof upside down with her head hanging percariously. It seemed so unfair that she was gone and yet I knew that she had brought me something special in life. The impending race suddenly seemed so small and unimportant. What was important was what she had left me. I would not know the bitter part had I not experienced the sweet part.
It made me question if all of this was worth it? The endless hours of hard work, the loss of friends, the physical exhaustion, the “ugly” side of competition, the heart ache …. I questioned each of these hardships. As for the hard work it is ingrained in both of us. If not for dogs, we would be working to the bone at something else as we have always done. When we snowmobiled we did it to extreme, when we golfed we did it to extreme. Why should dog sledding be any different? The loss of friends is something all musher’s experience as we become obsessed with this sport and find ourselves unable to relate to any discussion other than dogs. However, we’ve met more good people through the dogs than we’ve lost because of the dogs so I’d say it’s worth it. The physical exhaustion is exhilerating and something that I believe will keep us young and it certainly beats the alternative; sitting on the couch. The “ugly” side of competition stumped me for a while because I struggle with this one. I have always been competitive on a personal level, but it doesn’t drive me. In other words, I like to do well, but I don’t live for it. I am glad for this because nothing is more disheartening to me to see, hear or experience people do anything or behave poorly in the name of competition. Having always been an over achiever in life I learned early on that there are few people that are big enough and/or comfortable enough in their own skin to share the joy in your successes. Nor are there many people who can truly compete and do so without animosity. No where is this more obvious than in the racing circuit. When you can find those people that can share in your joy or that can compete in friendship just for the sheer love of competiton they are special and you know it. It is those people that make it all worth it. This loss that we suffered has demonstrated how many great friends we have made through dogs and I can’t thank them enough for all their moral support. We have met some truly awesome and generous people in this sport. People that have made our lives richer. These people make you forget about the “ugly” side of human nature that we can run across while competing. As for the heart ache. If we never experienced heart ache, then it would mean that we have never known joy. My husband, my dogs and our love for life and this sport is my joy. I am honored to have experienced the heart ache that Mary gave me. Her memory will drive us forward because for us……. “It is all about the dogs!”