Nevada County woman competes with nation’s elite
Barbara Schaefer, a local sled dog musher, came within a stone’s throw of participating in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy next year – a pretty impressive feat for a musher who lives and trains in a state known mostly for its sunshine.
When mentioning sled dog racing, thoughts of snow and a cold climate may immediately spring to mind. However, Schaefer can’t help the fact that she loves her dogs and the racing, but also likes to call Nevada County and California home.
The fact that Schaefer trains in a climate absent of snow for much of the year does not, however, hold her back from being a successful musher at the six-dog middle distance.
This past year, Schaefer made the time requirement to compete in the Atta Boy 300 IFSS (International Federation of Sleddog Sports) World Sled Dog Championships in Bend, Ore., January 7-8 , 2005 – a race that was originally slated to be a qualifying race for the upcoming Winter Olympics.
Schaefer joined 34 other teams, from all around the world, to chase an opportunity to compete in the Olympics.
“I came in last place,” said Schaefer, a business system leader for Swift Newspapers, the parent company of The Union. “But I did a great job racing with the big guys who whole lives are racing.
“I mean, I live in California and my dogs sleep in my bed with me – it would have been easy for me to feel out of place.”
Despite her finish, simply participating in the event put Schaefer one step closer to an Olympic bid, because of one important fact separating her from all but one of the other teams: Schaefer’s dogs are pure bred Siberian Huskies.
Because of something called the pure-bred proposal, two pure-bred racing teams will be invited to participate in the Olympics even if they do not qualify as one of their country’s top teams. At the World Cup, Schaefer’s team was one of only two teams racing with a pure-bred team.
Recently, though, Schaefer received word that the Olympic Committee had reconsidered adding sled dog racing as a demonstration sport for 2006. The committee apparently would like to see sled dog teams from more countries and hope to instead add it as a demonstration sport at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
This would not be the first time that sled dog racing would be an Olympic event, as in the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics, sled dog racing was a demonstration sport. At the time, most mushers were from North America.
Schaefer bought her first dog, Kayla, in 1987 and by 1994 had six dogs and a sled. She began racing in 1999 and now owns enough dogs to field two teams, one she runs and another team that 15-year-old Cameron Beyers runs.
In 2002 she won the International Sled Dog Racing Association’s six-dog unlimited gold medal and a sliver medal in 2003.
Coming Wednesday: In mentoring a young musher, Schaefer shares her sport with the next generation.
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