Racer hopes to beat seventh-place finish next year
Quaqtaq’s Harry Okpik may have crossed the Ivakkak finish line in seventh place but that hasn’t stopped streams of praise from coming his way.
Okpik, 49, lost his left leg in a 1976 hunting accident when he was only 22 years old. Yet despite the disability, he has raced in Ivakkak for the past two years.
His determination has not gone unnoticed.
“He’s an inspiration to people with disabilities,” said Johnny Oovaut, mayor of Quaqtaq. “He has to get around on crutches but he’s in this race having to climb mountains.”
Isabelle Dubois, the race coordinator for Makivik, agreed.
Other racers, she said, may have an advantage of being able to run alongside their dogs for long stretches of time, and ease the dog’s workload, but Okpik demonstrated how far dedication can bring you.
“Last year, he finished in the last position. But last year his dogs were young. As soon as he finished the race he began training again. He trained all winter long and in the spring and fall. I was just so proud. It’s amazing what he can do,” Dubois said.
Okpik, though appreciative of the praise, makes light of his disability. Competing, he said, is a matter of will.
For several years after his accident, he said, he felt sorry for himself. But a friend’s encouragement and eventually convinced him to train dogs again.
Racing dogs then became a question of making adjustments for his body, he said, and devoting extra time to training his team.
“Compared to a person with two legs, I have to train a little differently. I have to train my dogs to be very close to me because when I call them they have to come because I can’t get to them,” he said.
Okpik has trained dog teams for about 18 years. By competing in Ivakkak, he said, he hopes to bring confidence to others.
“I wanted to join this race to try and encourage people to get to things they want to get to, rather than just thinking about it.” he said.
Okpik hopes to improve on his seventh-place finish next year. But he refuses to make predictions, instead preferring to thank those who helped him in this year’s race.
“I made a lot of good friends during the race,” he said. “They gave me confidence. None of them told me they felt sorry for me or treated me differently for having one leg. They treated me like I was an equal.”