100+ year old sport gains another Thunder Bay champion

November 2021

Dog sledding has been around for thousands of years, while dog sled racing only about 100. Even while living in snowy Northern Ontario, I never saw or heard very much about dogsled racing…until I met Julia Cross.

Julia started dog sledding when she was just 5 years old and fell in love with the sport after she witnessed a race for the first time in 2013. Since then, she has competed in 23 races and has won first place eight times, along with a few second places as well as sportsmanship awards and a host of other honourable awards.

Cross keeps a team of 7 stunning dogs and races with 6 in any given race. They are Alaskan Huskies that have been bred specifically for racing. To my surprise and utter lack of experience on the subject, the sled dogs didn’t look like common huskies to me. They were slender, smaller, leaner and more graceful than the huskies I typically see walking in the parks. I honestly wasn’t sure if I was even petting a husky! As it turns out, most pet huskies are Siberian Huskies or their close cousin, the Alaskan Malamute. Julia’s athletes are Alaskan Huskies – born and bred to race. Though all huskies are generally active dogs, Alaskan dog sled racing Huskies require nearly constant stimulation, work and energy expenditure.

“Sled dogs LOVE their job. It is bred into them so they love working, they love racing and they love competition. If you took the sport away, it would lower their quality of life. Some dogs make really good house dogs, but these ones need to be working and they need a job and stimulation.”

Julia’s current team of dogs consists of many skills and personalities. First is Jitterbug – she is a leader and races at the front of the pack and keeps the rest of the team in line. Brooks is also a leader alongside Jitterbug. Bruce is in the process of learning how to be a lead dog, and due to some incompatibility issues he is given his own space in the pen separate from the other dogs. Then there’s Wallaby. Mischievous Wallaby gives obnoxious kisses, is still learning his manners and is the hardworking brute of the bunch. Journey is the other female lead dog. She’s known to be a little crazy, but she is the fastest one of the bunch by far. Lastly, but certainly not forgotten, is the 12 year old relaxed retiree, Kate.

The dogs have a double coat of fur and feel right at home as they race in the bitter cold of Canada. As for Julia, she’s found some game-changing winter gear that keeps her warm during some of her mid-distance, 50-mile races. Some of her staple items include wool socks and base layers for warmth and wicking moisture away, NEOS overshoes to keep her feet waterproofed, and one last secret that keeps her hands warm on the handle: “Beaver skin mitts are the way to go.”

With COVID putting races on hold, Julia shared her passion for racing by giving online presentations for schools all over Canada and in the USA through Boston, Ohio, all the way up to Alaska. She hopes to get back on the sled this winter and enter a tournament coming up in Grand Marais.

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