Saturday, February 4, 2017

Canadian Challenge; Jackie Wepruk

So far I have been speaking to the mushers and frantically scribbling notes as they share their stories with me. I've also had a few e-mails where the questions I asked were laid out perfectly so that I could easily us my passion for writing and playing with words... However what I received from Jackie at Tucoldturain Kennels was so perfect that I didn't have the heart to re-do it.   
I may have moved a paragraph or two, but in Jackie's own words, here is her story.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

It’s hard to set a date as to when I started dog sledding.
It started rather innocuously with Rick and me running our SPCA graduate, a purebred Siberian, and a rescue Siberian within the city limits of Calgary.
Rick and I laugh now at our first attempts. This would have been in the late 1990's – we were SO novice.
 My original passion with the dogs was obedience training and trialing. When I was looking for my next obedience Siberian (my first being from conformation show lines), I decided that working lines would yield a better work ethic regardless of the work involved. At that time Karen Ramstead was training for her first Iditarod and I decided that she had the ethics I was looking for in a breeder.
We visited her kennel and she gave us each our own six-dog team to run for a short fun run. Rick was hooked and things moved quickly.
We soon had an acreage (our current location) and were building our own team.
 Hugi, we called him the "Hu-man," was the dog that started it all for us.  He taught us so much, he died at 16 years, 3 months of age, a year last November.
 He finished his last distance race at 10 ½ years old and led my 4-dog sprint team at 11 ½, never placing less than 2nd place in the purebred class. We miss him every day.

There are so many special dogs that it is hard to point out just a few. Diesel, who just retired is a dog who we say “walks on water.” He’s 13 now and I wish he could live forever. He just retired this year and I now do cani-cross with him (he pulls me off my feet at times). When he ran lead it was like having power steering. He is also a wonderful companion with a fantastic temperament. Currently, our key leaders are both girls, Jolt and Isis. Jolt is Mom to Trinity, an up and coming leader. We hope to have a litter from Isis this year. She is a total love-bug and a very responsive leader. It’s not possible to detail the relationship we have we each of our dogs, but each is loved for being the individual that they are – even if some are a bit quirky!

We’re perhaps a little unusual in the sled dog world in that when we breed a litter we tend to keep and race everyone. We rarely have dogs to place in homes and we strive to bring out the best in each of our dogs. This means accepting that this may not translate to race wins or even placings, particularly in distance races where Alaskans rule and we are firmly loyal to our Siberians. That’s totally OK and in some ways takes the pressure off. No one expects much of us!

The racing was supposed to be Rick’s thing with me being handler. Things changed in 2010 when Rick’s back, which had always given him trouble, debilitated him 2 hours before our first race of the season. Rather than scratch, we substituted mushers. I ran a 12 dog team on the sled for the first time and screamed for the first two miles with my feet frozen to the brake. That was the beginning of me becoming “the musher.”

I love a lot of things about running dogs. I love how they open up a world that so few humans can experience; one where it’s just you and your dogs, in the middle of nowhere, working in unison. I love what they’ve taught me about what is really important for the welfare of all animals – a purpose. Also that one cannot have good wellbeing without challenges to that wellbeing that one must overcome. We all become stronger, fitter, healthier, and better for having strived for a purpose that requires effort and some risk. The challenge is always to mitigate the risks, but without risk, there is no life worth living.
 I also love that when the dogs and I are “out there” that the balance of power shifts. We truly become equals. In every aspect of any companion animal’s life, it is the human that is in control. When they eat, what they eat, what care they receive, etc. On the trail, sled dogs and humans are equals with the human dependent upon his/her dogs and the dogs dependent on the musher. It is the one situation in a dog’s life where they truly are equals in all respects with their person, and I think they know it!

We’re back at Challenge this year because we did not want to miss the 20 year anniversary of the race. This is my 3rd time racing at Challenge. Rick has been the musher twice before that at Challenge. We’ve switched roles with Rick now being the handler. He is the best handler too! This is truly a team effort where all successes are shared and we work through the challenges together. 

Taking a break from distance at a sprint race in Didsbury
Photo Credit: Mike Forhan

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