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02-14-20 Yukon Quest Update

Lex Treinen

02-14-20 Quest Update

Credit Lex Treinen / KUAC
Nora Sjalin with her leaders, Matilda and Harry.

Lex Treinen, KUAC (Whitehorse, Yukon) Nora Sjalin of Sweden crossed the line in 7th place to take the rookie of the year honor in this year’s Yukon Quest. But if you heard Nora Sjalin’s interview at the finish of the Yukon Quest, you might think the whole race for her was a 12-day long practical joke.

“I didn't read the trail report beforehand, which I should have, so I had to ask all the other mushers just like where's this summit, and what's coming up next.”

Asked what she learned during the Quest - her first 1,000-mile race:

“I need to pack more socks than I thought because I sweat a lot more than haha,” she says.

Sjalin says her last run into Whitehorse ddin't go exactly as planned.

“After the bridge there it was I got a bit off the tail and the sled got stuck and I had a lady in heat and the males got very interested so I sorted that out and then I needed to take the booties off because it was really wet and then they were napping so I'm like, I'm gonna give them forty minutes and some snacks and we did that and then we had a really nice run coming in.”

On the surface, it makes her look like an amateur, but in fact Sjalin is experienced and professional. She’s run the 750-mile Finnmarksloppet, Europe’s longest sled dog race and manages a kennel in Norway. She also ran a great rookie race to finish in seventh. She clearly had kept her dogs in top shape as they eagerly barked to leave the finish chute.

The 31-year-old said she invested thousands of dollars to send her dogs from Sweden four at a time, the maximum allowed by airlines. Earlier in the race, she joked she didn’t want to make a budget because she was too afraid to look at her finances - maybe she’d have a look at the end of the summer, she said. And if her results weren’t enough, 3 time Quest champion Brent Sass seconded the fact that Nora Sjalin is no joke. “Nora has been the best handler I've ever had in all of my time,” said Sass.

Sass says Nora was a handler for him about five years ago.

“She was persistent, she got in touch with me and said I want to come over to Alaska and be a handler and I already had a couple handlers and I didn't know if I needed help and she just kept sending emails and sending emails and finally I was like okay, you can come and it was the best decision I ever made so, yeah,” he said.

Sass said Sjalin helped him achieve his first major victory.

“She's the handler in 2015 for me when we won the first time and you know, she played a huge role in our victory that year. She's the hardest working handler, the best attitude you could possibly have, and I think she showed that out on the Quest trail this year, you know.”

Sass was there to cheer her on as she came through the finish chute. And not only because of his respect for the young musher. He also had lent Sjalin some of his dogs, bringing their connection to a full circle.

“She has a dog that she raised that when she was at my kennel that she got to run in her race this year and now I'm gonna take her on Iditarod, yeah it's awesome,” he said.

And someday, he said he wants to bring that connection full circle in a different way, running the Finnmarksloppet in Sjalin’s home territory.

“I'm definitely gonna go over there and a bunch of other friends that I already have it's definitely one of my goals to run that race,” he said “In the next three years, that’s our goal.”

And in that race, he might have some more competition from Sjalin on her home turf. After all, she is no joke. ###

Dan has been in public radio news in Alaska since 1993. He’s worked as a reporter, newscaster and talk show host at stations in McGrath, Valdez and Fairbanks. Dan’s experience includes coverage of a wide range of topics, from wolf control to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and dog mushing.