When Steve walks into a room his presence fills every corner. His booming laugh and tell it like it is matter of fact way leaves you with no doubt that he says what he means.
I met Steve at the 2015 Challenge when he graciously stepped up to help his daughters competition in the 12 dog race that year. I spent many hours with him traveling between checkpoints and was left feeling both taken care of and given confidence to carry on.
Steve himself wasn't racing the Challenge that year as he didn't feel their kennel, Ice Haven, out of Rocky Mountain House had enough dogs race ready for both his daughter and himself to run teams.
This year is a different story as both himself and daughter, Jillian Lawton, have entered the 8 dog class.
Steve, a retired RCMP officer, was first drawn to life of dogs when he and his wife were stationed in the Yukon back in 1976.
The two of them would cross country ski 100 to 150 miles into the bush to go camping together. It was the day that Bruce Johnson passed Steve and Carol on one of those treks at -30 temperatures. Bruce was sitting on his sled drinking coffee while being pulled along by 10 dogs, this was the moment that Steve realized they had being doing it all wrong.
It all began with two puppies, a Malamute and a Siberian. Joining his first team were three dogs from Dough Urquhart, the cartoonist of Skookum of the North. In fact Willy, one of the dogs purchased, was featured in Dougs comic strip.
In 1980 Steve, Carol and his young family moved to the Rocky Mountain House area where sprint racing was flourishing. It was possible to race every weekend in a season and make money doing so. Steve in fact was the 7 dog Sprint Champion.
As races began to fade away he turned his attention to tourism and ran dog sledding tours out of Nordegg for 15 years.
Once he quit the touring business his daughter, Jillian, wanted to try her hand at racing before they got out of dogs.... 10 year later and she is still racing.
Steve mentioned it isn't really his 'thing', it is a joint effort to train for and attend mid distance races with his daughter.
Racing is not the end product, it is part of the enjoyment, but he doesn't race to win, but to enjoy the moment. "You can only do the best your dogs can do and that's it."
I asked Steve to share some stories with me, but I think we needed to be sitting face to face with beers in hand. He said that there are too many good stories to share when it comes to the Challenge and did mention that the more beer there is the harder it is to believe any of his stories, but I don't doubt they are all true.
He did tell me about a dog named Sasha and how she had saved his life twice. They were running on ice that she knew was too thin, in fact it was candling, which is a form of rotten ice that develops in columns going down. Sasha turned the entire team around to get them off of the ice.
He also mentioned that she once helped discover an illegal trap line.
This year Steve is running puppies, he's gearing up for a 200 mile road trip, relaxed and fun. The Canadian Challenge is a race he returns to every year. There is an aura about the race, the people involved, it's what keeps him coming back.
When asked what the future in dog sledding holds for him, he laughed and added, that he's got to keep going because there are many others younger than him that are much worse off physically.
So, he's gotta keep going.
Didsbury Sprint Race 2017
Photo Credit: Mike Forhan