Thursday, February 9, 2017

Canadian Challenge: Gerry Walker

If you ever have the opportunity to sit down with Gerry, a retired Rodeo Cowboy, and talk about dogs (and what musher doesn't want to talk dogs?) you'll find it always starts out as serious business.   You get the feeling that he is guarded with many secrets about his training regime or his race schedule and plans.   Then, as the conversation starts to relax you will find the stories begin to flow.
I'd say Gerry is a story teller extraordinaire!!

Gerry's first experience with standing on the runners behind dogs was at the early age of about 8 with his brother.     It began with his father winning a German Sheppard at a poker game.  The dog was then given to his grandfather, who was blind, in which he trained the dog to be a seeing eye dog of sorts.   Although with a comment from Gerry about how the dog would walk his grandfather down the middle of the street I'd say it wasn't all perfect.   Perfect would be the sled he built for his grandsons so that his dog could pull the boys down the street, albeit chasing cars,  but giving Gerry a taste of things to come.

It wasn't until the summer of 2001 that Gerry saw an add in a local farm newspaper for sled dogs.  He and his wife went to take a look and came home with enough dogs and equipment to have his own sled team.   This would be the beginning of Smoky Hill Kennel in Pierceland Saskatchewan.
His biggest problem he says was the good command leader he ended up with.   For a beginner musher just learning the ropes having a dog who knows what to do made that first year lots of fun.  It is what got him hooked and into dogs.

After getting his first dogs and knowing he needed better equipment he began looking for a sled which led him to Jim Tomkins.
Jim was leading a 2 day seminar which Gerry attended listening and learning about everything to do with dog sledding.   From dog care, to equipment it was shared all while sitting around picnic tables in Jims yard.
 Gerry not only walked away with a wealth of information but also ended up buying some dogs from Jim.  However part of the deal would have Jim coaching Gerry for that year.
A great year in which Jim taught him everything he knew.

2002 would be Gerry's first entry into the Canadian Challenge, a year he would scratch at the 1/2 way mark, but in 2003 he won.   
It was after that race that he said no one would share any information with him anymore.  When asked why, he was told, "You're learning too fast."

Gerry enjoys running the Canadian Challenge, saying each year his run is different, always fun.  He must love it as he has now run this race 11 times and proudly winning 3 of them.

At every race you create new memories, and there will always be those that stand out. 
For Gerry there were two that were most memorable.
In 2006 he ran along side with his daughter Dee running every dog from their kennel. Besides having lots of fun, they came in 3rd and 4th place with Brenda, his wife, and Penny, his other daughter, at their side as handlers.
In 2014 Rick Wannamaker joined Gerry in training dogs and then racing the Challenge together.   The two friends stayed one in front of each other the entire way, and knowing the two of them, this could only mean stories and no sleep at every check stop.   As they neared the finish line they decided to run neck in neck giving a photo finish ending for 4th place.

From humble beginnings Gerry's kennel has grown and he proudly states that in the last few years they have bred and raised all their own dogs.
With 13 out of his 17 race ready dogs running as strong leaders it would be safe to say that owning a Walker dog would be a good thing.

Somehow I don't think that there will be any dogs for sale in the near future as Gerry is still looking ahead at running more mid-distance races.
Possibly the Percy, his second time, this year, and then the Beargrease and Race to The Sky for 2018.
At one time he thought maybe he would like to run the Iditarod or the Yukon Quest, but he isn't so sure he would want to go without more than 3 nights of sleep anymore.

When you meet and get to know Gerry you realize that he is very competitive, yet always keeps the well being of his dogs ahead of winning.  He holds back on sharing any racing secrets, but he is always there to lend a hand when needed.

There is a reason he won the 1994 Lakeland Rodeo most Sportsmanlike Cowboy Award. 
Photo Credit: Edmonton Journal 

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