Just a couple weeks after becoming a world champion, Whitehorse musher Rachel Kinvig and her dogs were back tearing up the trails at the recent 2011 Junior North American Championship in Fairbanks, Alaska.
Even splitting her world-champion team, in order to race in two classes, the 14-year-old still won gold in the four-dog and silver in the six-dog classes on March 6.
“I think it’s fantastic,” said Kinvig. “The four-dog (race stands out) because my team was so much stronger and they were so much faster than my six-dog team.
“My four-dog team was all boys and they were just bigger and stronger dogs.”
A stronger, faster four-dog team? Sounds like it.
In the six-dog race, Kinvig finished just 8.4 second behind the winner, Sherry Johnson from Minnesota,
a tiny amount of time for three days of racing. In the four-dog class, Kinvig outpaced second-place Johnson by more than three-and-a-half minutes – not that everything went flawlessly.
“I ran a new leader in the four-dog race. He stopped when we were trying to pass the Ski-Doos,” said Kinvig. “In the six-dog race, we came around a corner and my lead dog jumped into a snow bank and I had to stop and untangle her.”
Kinvig, who also won the Sportsmanship Award in Fairbanks, collected a world title at the Junior World Championship Sled Dog Race last month in Anchorage. Not only was she the fastest in each of the three races en route to winning the overall prize in the five-dog class, she set a new course record on the final day, shaving 19 seconds off the previous best time for juniors on the six-mile Tozier Track.
At the worlds, Kinvig also beat out a larger field, coming first out of six mushers in her class, twice the size of her divisions at the North Americans.
“Fairbanks is suffering, they don’t have a lot of mushing kids there anymore,” said father and coach Darren Kinvig. “So when we got there, Rachel could sign up in the six-dog, and there were three six-dog racers, all three very competitive teams.
“At a kids’ race – they don’t usually allow them to race more than one class – it’s best to split up the teams if she gets the opportunity, to see what she has to build a team for the future.
“She had some old ones in there and the same leader, but she was in full standing heat; she was in season all three days of race. So she didn’t do as well as she could have, but she did really well.”
Kinvig will definitely be one to watch as Whitehorse hosts next year’s Arctic Winter Games, giving her the home-trail advantage. She is already the most decorated musher in Arctic Games history, having never lost a race in two appearances, winning a total of six gold medals.
Kinvig, who started mushing at age six, was also a North American champ in 2009, winning the four-dog class.
Last year, Kinvig was awarded the Junior Alaskan Sled Dog and Racing Association’s Sportsmanship Award.
Aside from winning some Copper Haul Twister races and Rendezvous races, Kinvig won the Carbon Hill Sled Dog Race, three-dog class in 2006, the same year she took second in the two-dog class at the junior worlds. The previous year, Kinvig was second in the two-dog class at the junior North Americans.
Kinvig will be capping the season at the Tok Dog Mushing Association’s Race of Champions, in the junior division at the start of next month. However, the week before, Rachel’s mom, Leanne Kinvig, will be running some of her dogs in the adult race.
“For us, it’s a good way to see what’s happening in the breeding program – to see which way to breed them for the future,” said Darren. “Rachel is doing very well in the junior classes, and there are very competitive dog teams in the junior classes, but once you move into the adult class, it’s a different level again.
“It’s something we’ve done for years, seeing how they do in the adult classes.”
Contact Tom Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org