Local high school student Maria Perrin competed in the IFSS World Championships. Darren Lum Staff

High schooler joins elite company in competing

By Darren Lum

Feb. 7 2017

Maria Perrin is a Haliburton Highlands Secondary School student not like most teens. She’s in elite company now after having competed in the 2017 IFSS World Championship at the Haliburton Forest more than a week ago.

With a passion for animals and a veteran musher the dark haired Grade 12 teen could be easily perceived as quiet and shy. However she possesses a resolve and inner strength that easily shines through when she is racing which came into play within 50 metres of the start of her junior single-dog skijoring 10 kilometre race.

Standing at the start line she was really excited and a little nervous knowing it was the world championship and how many people were around her. To settle herself and to focus she went over a mental checklist of securing her equipment and clothing. It’s a routine she has performed before.

Although she made up the entire field of racers in her class because the competitors registered did not compete it didn’t take away from her experience in the championship held every two years.

It was an amazing experience Perrin said to compete in the world championships. The enormity of the event didn’t dawn on her until the night before the first day of competition.

“It didn’t even really register at first. I knew I was going to be competing but it didn’t feel like a world championship until the opening ceremonies and then it hit me that it was a world championship and I was competing in it. After that I was kind of nervous and a little bit stressed because my exams were starting the Friday after [her Wednesday race] so I had to try and study for those and get ready for the event itself” she wrote in an email. “Once we were out on the trail it didn’t really seem all that different from any other race. It was just me and the dog out on another trail trying our best and having fun.”

With a racing resume that includes racing dogsleds at five it wasn’t a leap for her to take up skijoring at 10-years-old and begin competitive racing two years later. Her mother Gail bought a skijoring belt to try the sport.

“I pretty much fell in love with the sport right away and that's what keeps me competing. There aren't many things that are better than being out on the trail with the dogs whether it's skijoring or sledding” she wrote in an email.

Held from Jan. 23 to Feb.1 the event included an opening ceremonies and 135 people and more than 890 dogs that competed in skijoring and dogsled races in variety of classes which included single-dog races in seven kilometre sprints up to 20 dogs in the 81 kilometre distance. They came from 11 countries such as Finland Sweden Norway Czech Republic the US and even Spain.

Perrin said qualifying was fairly straightforward for her because of the small field of interested competitors when compared to other popular classes. She raced in two races last year and applied to the IFSS.

The teen has plans to compete more but expects those races to be close to home.

“In the future I plan to keep going to as many races as I can and doing as well as I can in them. I'm planning on doing three more this year. It is a little difficult for me to get to a lot of different races because my family isn't really into the sport (other than my mom who has a touring company in Cochrane) and there aren't a lot of races that are really close by so I usually just do the ones close to home” she said.

Canadian team member and world championship veteran Karen Koehler who makes her home in Carnarvon also competed and has been a mentor to Perrin for a few years. She encouraged the teen to apply to race in the championships even offering her own dog to run for her.

“I definitely wasn't doing anything as cool [at her age]” she said.

They first met when Perrin was close to six and competing with her dog Noah in the Kid and Mutt race at the Haliburton Highlands Dogsled Derby organized by Winterdance Dogsled Tours and held at various locations in the area. Koehler said she went out on training runs with and without dogs with the Highlands teen several times before the championship.

“When I used to see her training at her mom's she would fall and never got frustrated with the dogs.

She would just keep going” she said.

Call it prophetic because Perrin did exactly as her mentor said after falling close to the start which was keep going right on to the finish line in her first world championship race and something she will never forget.