Something borrowed

Musher A.J. Charlie relies on friend's pups and sees award-winning results

A.J. Charlie, 11, a dog musher from Aklavik, poses with Nellie. Charlie has secured two medals for Team NWT this week. He took silver in both the four-dog 7.5 kilometre race and the five-dog 10-kilometre race in the juvenile mix division.

At home in Aklavik, A.J. Charlie's family has a kennel with about 30 sled dogs, however, he was unable to bring a full team to Whitehorse which necessitated borrowing a few animals from a friend of the family.

Despite being unfamiliar with the loaner dogs, Charlie said his performance has improved this week compared to when he qualified for the Arctic Winter Games.

“At the trials I kept coming second before that girl and since using my dad's friend's dogs, I am coming second and beating that girl,” he said. “It's easier.”

The 11-year-old has been mushing for almost four years and is following in his father's footsteps.

“My dad dog mushes and he goes in a lot of tournaments,” he said, beaming with pride about his father's accomplishments. “He won a 2004 tournament here (Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous festival) and he came first place. There's a medal at the hotel where we're staying and it says 2004 Andrew Charlie, my dad.”

Charlie's not doing badly himself. He has won two medals in Whitehorse this week and has one more race. With silvers in both the four-dog 7.5-kilometre race and the five-dog 10-kilometre race in the juvenile mix division, he said he is aiming for gold on Friday in the four-dog 7.5-kilometre team event.

It's an impressive performance considering this is A.J.'s first games.

Also surprising, said Charlie's father, because the dogs the team borrowed are endurance-race animals.

“The dogs we got were over in Alaska and they were running like 20-mile runs. These races here are five miles, six miles long and the dogs don't know they're just going six miles, he said. “If they are running 20 miles they'll gear themselves down a bit. It's the same as an athlete who runs a100-metre sprint will run it full out, and the guy running 2,000 metres he is going to slow down a bit.”

Aside from competing, young Charlie has two other reasons for wanting to be at the games – both his sisters are competing this year – Stephanie in hockey and Courtney in Dene games.

Their father said he is happy to have all his children at the games this year, and although he is proud his son has taken up mushing for the games, he doesn't expect A.J. to stick with the sport in 2014.

“The kids are more into other sports, like hockey, soccer. They're not really into dog mushing,” he said, adding that A.J. is a good hockey player.

“He was too young for hockey this year and the only sports he could tryout for were dog mushing or speed skating and he didn't want to tryout for speed skating.”