Sled dog racing a serious sport for one Maine woman

SOMERSET COUNTY, Maine – If you stop by Fort Illio Kennels in Lexington Township, you’re pretty much guaranteed two things: howling Siberian huskies and Kacey McCarty calling for her sled dog team.

McCarty has been racing since she was 15, but her love of the sport began when she was younger. Her neighbor owned a kennel and she said she couldn’t resist a visit.

“As a 10-year-old, I was very fascinated with animals, so I would go there all the time and help out, to the point where my mom was like, ‘Okay, if I’m never going to see them, I should probably do some dogs bring home,'” McCarty said. “So I convinced them to bring six home, and then I squeaked a seventh, and that’s how it all started.”

McCarty began her career in sled dog racing, participating in so-called “sprint races”. These races cover between four and 25 miles of terrain. The older she got, the longer her races became. She is now a regular in medium distance races ranging from 30 to 100 miles and has even competed in the Can-Am 250 mile race at Fort Kent.

Their Somerset County kennel is home to dozens of purebred Siberian Huskies. Some of the dogs have retired from racing, but the others are eagerly awaiting their next outing on the trails.

“They roam free all over their enclosure every day, and it’s actually good for them because at that point they can be dogs and not athletes,” McCarty said. “They just chill, they go and play and hang out with each other. Most of the time they don’t fight.”

Sled dog racing is a serious competitive sport. The weeks leading up to a race are filled with rigorous training to get the team in peak condition. McCarty said each dog is placed with precision, with the most advanced leaders at the front of the pack.

The team is outfitted with harnesses and shoes, and McCarty makes sure her sled is stocked with everything she needs to hit the trail. Once the dogs are in place and attached to the sled, it’s showtime.

“It’s magical,” McCarty said. “The whole team comes together and they work 100 percent together. They are so in tune with you.”

McCarty and her team can be found on the trails up to four times a week before a race. Sometimes they drive 25 miles, sometimes more than 40 miles.

“Usually we don’t train too hard the week before the race because you don’t want them to get hurt for the race [we] will just go out and have fun runs and usually throw different leaders and they’re just having so much fun,” McCarty said.

McCarty added the colder it is, the more her team thrives. We might find the bitterly cold winter temperatures unbearable, but these dogs can’t get enough.

“They love zero and under, I’m fine with 10 [degrees] but I don’t mind,” McCarty said, laughing. “I go out in 20 degrees Celsius and we can do a 20-mile run and it seems like a blink of an eye because they’re flying.”

Most recently, McCarty competed in the Greenville Wilderness Challenge 35 mile race and placed eighth out of 16 teams, and she competed in the Can-Am International 100 mile race at Fort Kent and placed sixteenth out of 23 teams. She said she looks forward to the competition every year and would like to see the sport grow.

“It’s super expensive to maintain a kennel, it’s time consuming and you have to be 100 percent committed,” McCarty said. “If you’re not and you want to do other things in the winter, it probably isn’t for you because this is basically your life.”

When asked if she’d rather do something else, McCarty replied, “No, that’s for me.”

To learn more about McCarty and Fort Illio Kennels, watch the full segment or click here.

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