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Iditarod bound

Jessica Gray
Northern News Services

Rankin Inlet (Jan 25/06) - Professional musher Warren Palfry is set to race in the 2006 Iditarod in Alaska.

This will be his first time in the gruelling race, but Palfry has high hopes for his dogs.

The decision to enter one of the most prestigious and yet treacherous dog races came after impressing the right people. "The catalyst was being awarded the Seppala Heritage Grant," he said. "It's essentially awarded to a young, rookie musher aspiring to run the Iditarod but may not have the financial means."

The grant is worth $10,000 and covers more than a third of the $25,000 total it will cost him to race.

Palfry's dog handler and soon-to-be-wife, Kate Steadman, said the first race is always most expensive.

"You need to buy equipment and supplies for each stop. If you need 2,500 pairs of dog booties, that's $2,500 extra," she said. "You won't need to buy those for the next year."

Now 30 years old, Palfry was born in Manitoba, but grew up in Rankin Inlet. He remembers racing in his hometown and how great it felt working together with his team. "Winning my first race in Rankin Inlet, coming over the finish line with my dogs and I couldn't see anyone behind me," he said. "That was the most emotional moment I've had running dogs."

Palfry has raced for more than 19 years and has a team of dogs he thinks is ready for the almost 1,800-km race.

He's not looking to prove himself, but rather to see if his breeding and training programs are producing champion dogs.

"I don't aspire to do too much in my first Iditarod; it's such a big undertaking. I still plan on running a competitive race," he said. "I do think after Iditarod I will be impressed by a few of the younger dogs."

Palfry's Yellowknife kennel, Northern Star Kennels, has produced top sprinting and stage racing dogs. Now he's hoping he'll be able to add distance to that list.

Palfry is participating in the Race to the Sky run in Montana and two other events before heading to Alaska in March.

"This year, I won the Underdog 100 and came second in the Great Slave 200," he said.

During the Iditarod, handlers are not allowed at the different stages. There are also two mandatory rest periods, one for 24 hours in the middle of the race and one for eight hours on the last stretch.

Communication devices are not allowed except for emergency transmitters. If a transmitter is activated that musher is automatically out of the race.

It will take mushers nine to 14 days to finish the race from the start March 5.