Beargrease Kicks Off At Billy’s Bar During Deep Freeze

DULUTH, Minn. — Even with temperatures below freezing, the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon attracted hundreds of people to spectate the 39th run. However, the cold icy conditions makes this year’s race ideal for both dogs and mushers.

“It should be faster,” said long-time musher Jennifer Freking. “Dogs feel pretty good and they like the cold. I expect the team to feel pretty good when we get into the race and we’ll see how things play out.”

But even braving sub-zero temperatures, organizers prepare for any injuries that can potentially happen during the race. This year, a staff of 22 veterinarians and a traveling EMT will accompany the racers, some of which will have to make a 300 mile trip to Grand Portage, Minn.

“The vets will follow the teams up the trail and stop at every single check point with them to provide any veterinary services that the dogs and team need,” said Vice President of Beargrease Britney North.

Before mushers and dogs even compete, the teams must go through a regular vet check the day prior to the start of Beargrease race. This year the vet checks were held at Black Bear Casino. 

“Every dog that does the marathon, and the 40, and the 120, all have to go through a vet check to make sure they’re safe to run the race,” said North.

“It’s all about the dogs, taking care of them, and making them feel good,” said Freking.

But what happens to those racers caught alone at the dead of night with a potentially injured sled dog? Racers say that it’s best to load them onto the sled and take them to the next checkpoint.

“The veterinarians are there,” said Freking. “You got to expect that someone might twist an ankle, have a sore wrist. Then that dog you can use wrist wrap to reduce the swelling down. They would then stay in the care of your handlers or vets if it was more serious.”

With every ride geared with a first aid pack for themselves and their dogs, dog food, water, and a sleeping bag. The mushers are set for the race.

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