Son-in-law finishes second
Oldest contender aces Iqaluit to 'Kimmirut; race
Chesterfield Inlet resident Steven Inukshuk put in one tough but satisfying day last Saturday when he took first place in the Spring Fever 2009 snowmobile race between Iqaluit and Kimmirut.
Inukshuk, 54, the oldest man in the field of seven racers, made the 315-plus-km round-trip in four hours and 14 minutes, despite losing vision in one eye near the start of the race.
He ran most of the way with one eye closed, he said afterwards. Only towards the end did his vision begin to return.
For his efforts, he took home the grand prize of $7,000, plus a round-trip ticket to Ottawa via First Air.
Inukshuk said before the race that he didn't expect to win.
"I used to do a lot of racing, but I'm kind of old for it now," he told Nunatsiaq News. "I'm just trying to be a role model for the younger people – to show them it's always worth trying."
Show them, he did. This was Inukshuk's third attempt at the race, so despite being from Chesterfield Inlet, he was familiar with the trail.
In earlier tries, he had placed 15th, and then in the top 10.
Inukshuk got a good 20-second jump on his nearest competitor right off the starting line when he loaded and lashed down his qamutik and took off in a cloud of snow while his six fellow racers were still struggling with tie-downs.
"We're trying to make this a more traditional race," organizer Jimmy Noble, Jr., explained at a pre-race meeting.
Contestants had to carry basic survival gear, including tent or snow knife, sleeping bag and mat, change of clothing and boots, food, stove, and fuel on a qamutik pulled behind their snow machines.
They also had to carry extra oil, a spare drive belt, spark plugs and antifreeze, plus at least 15 gallons of gas.
To start the race they had to dash 50 feet to their waiting machines, and load and tie down their qamutiks before taking off.
To qualify, they had to return with all their gear, including gas containers.
Second-place winner Ricky Issaluk of Iqaluit kept it all in the family, coming in two minutes behind Inukshuk, who is the 31-year-old's father-in-law.
Issaluk was slowed down, he said, after he broke a runner on his qamutik on the descent from Mount Joy into Kimmirut.
"After that, I had to take it easy."
Issaluk took home a $2,000 prize, plus a second ticket to Ottawa.
Roger Alivaktuk of Pangnirtung came third, winning $700, the cost of freight on 100 kilograms of cargo from Ottawa, and two barrels of gas.
Prizes were based on entry fees and donations from 17 sponsors, including $3,000 from Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., air tickets and cargo from First Air and $1,000 each from the Qikiqtani Inuit Assoc., R.L. Hanson Construction and Wynburg Automotive.
Inukshuk said he would have been happy even without a win, as entering the race gave him a chance to visit his three children and 12 grandchildren, who all live in Iqaluit.
Spring Fever 2009 was also a victory for organizers Noble, Jimmy Akavak and Pauloosie Nuyalia, who managed to revive the traditional and popular spring event after a hiatus of three years.
The race was a South Baffin tradition for close to 30 years, Noble said, until liability and insurance issues discouraged earlier organizers from continuing their involvement.
Noble, who won the race himself in 1999 with a time of three hours and 36 minutes, also pulling a sled, said he felt it became more dangerous when organizers dropped the qamutik requirement.
Noble said the qamutiks help slow the race down. The last few races – without qamutiks – had posted winning times of well under three hours.
After negotiating with the Government of Nunavut over liability issues, Noble and Akavak made racers sign waivers taking responsibility for their own safety. Each racer had to have support crew along the trail who could bring him out in case of accident or other difficulty.
Racers also had to check in at four numbered cabins, outbound and returning. And the turnaround at Kimmirut avoided the hamlet itself.
Noble and Akavak said they'd been hoping for 10 to 20 racers, but were happy with seven, each of whom paid $350 to participate.
Five completed the course, with one dropping out in the first few minutes after breaking his windshield and sled. Another gave up before cabin three.
There were no injuries, Akavak said – which also made him happy. As did the community support from sponsors and volunteers.
More than 100 Iqalummiut walked, sledded or drove out the specially constructed ice road onto the bay to watch the 9 a.m. start. A similar number watched for the finish.