By Sue Tiffin
Karen Koehler is a national champion and so is Buncho.
The pair Koehler a world-class skijoring athlete living in Carnarvon and Buncho a three-year-old German shorthaired pointer picked up titles at the 10th annual Bristol Dryland National Canadian Championship Dog Race held Oct 25 to 27.
“This is the first year we had an official Canadian championship which is really exciting and I won two titles so that’s really cool” said Koehler.
Koehler won first in the one-dog bikejor for women in her age group and first in the one-dog scooter race.
“It’s exciting” said Koehler of the wins and accomplishments in two other races that weekend. “I was really hoping it would happen because I’ve done really well in the circuits over the years and my team is getting older. I know that I’m going to start trailing off in my competitiveness just because my dogs are aging. I was wondering if I was going to miss having such a title.”
Koehler has participated and placed in races around the world including at the International Federation of Sleddog Sports World Championships held at Haliburton Forest and Wild Life Reserve in 2017 and at a fun run she organized and held at Killara Station on Gelert Road this past spring.
The first Canadian championship was held in Bristol Quebec at a site run by Denis Rozon who has a trail system in place there where he hosts Timberland Tours Dog Sled Adventures.
“It has been a site for 10 years that has held an amazing dryland race which attracts American and Canadian competitors from far and wide” said Koehler noting that Rozon pitched the idea of the Canadian Championships being held there for the 10th anniversary of his race.
The world championships were held at the same location in 2015.
“I was at that event too” said Koehler. “He runs a really good good show.”
This year’s races were thrilling for Koehler and her dogs who she began adopting in 2011 from Norway – prior to that she had adopted older dogs.
“So I have four of those guys now that I’ve raised since they were puppies” she said acknowledging that they each ran some of their best races around the age of three.
“You don’t know how your dogs are going to be but each one of them I feel I’ve brought up to this level and I’ve been so lucky to have four dogs that were as good as the others at the same age” she said. “So yeah it’s really exciting. Part of that would be the work I did with them because they’re all different.”
The dogs said Koehler thrive on the races.
“Often after races in training they’re more energized and it’s really cool that really shows me how much they enjoy that whole feel – other dogs around and mom’s really focused!”
Koehler said one of the experiences the dogs love is that they all sleep in the tent with her and her husband Rob Sargent who forgo a hotel room in favour of splurging on a nice meal at events.
“In terms of celebration for the dogs after a race they usually run into Rob’s arms for a big hug at the end of the course” she said. “I usually am tackled by the people trying to get my bib so it takes me a bit longer to get to the dogs to thank them for their effort. They are just glad they got to run. When the other dogs are getting their turn to run they bark that they want to come too. They get excited the minute you put on your coat or move a piece of equipment. They are upset when they see me take off for personal training without them but I have to do my share to be a proper member of the team!”
Koehler also credited Rob’s support and said she thinks of him as a Canadian champion as well.
“[He does all] those things that take time and energy away in my busy life trying to balance work to help pay for everything and time to train/play with the dogs so we can perform our best at races” she said. “Our racing success is an all-in family effort from human and furry members.”
Koehler expects next year’s championships to also be held in Quebec.
The Muttskateers a rhyming book written and illustrated by Koehler about the dogs and the adventure of the sport has sold more than 100 copies. It’s available at Algonquin Outfitters.
For more information about the championship visit bristoldryland.ca.