View Full Version : Finnish woman competes in Beargrease Dog Sled race

June Pelo
30-01-06, 17:57
NEWCOMER: A Finnish contestant is believed to be the first foreign woman to compete in the Beargrease.


The "Star Spangled Banner" and "O Canada" are traditions at the start of each John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon to honor American and Canadian mushers competing in the race.

On Sunday, hundreds of spectators heard a new tune, "Maamme," or Finnish for "Our Land."

The anthem was in honor of Mari Aikio, a Finnish woman who is believed to be the first European woman to compete in the Beargrease.

Aikio is from Kuusamo, Finland, near the Russian border.

She is studying to be a veterinary technician in Finland. School administrators suggested that she study abroad for a semester, and Aikio met mushers Blake and Jennifer Freking of Finland, Minn., through a mutual friend.

The three began corresponding last summer, and soon Aikio had snagged an invitation to stay and train with the Frekings.

At first, Aikio was going to be a handler for the Frekings, who are competing in the full marathon. But soon she was preparing to run the 138-mile mid-distance marathon, and has been training since September.

"I love being in the woods with the dogs," Aikio said. "It's amazing to train with this team."

The Beargrease, which began Sunday at Ordean Middle School in Duluth, is Aikio's first dogsled race. This also has been her first visit to the United States. Fortunately, the landscape of Finland, Minn., is quite similar to that of Kuusamo, Finland, and Aikio seems right at home working with her newly adopted team.

Aikio had done some dogsledding in her home country, as well as skiijoring with her two Siberian husky dogs. Aikio also has a pet reindeer.

Aikio's sled passed underneath American, Canadian and Finnish flags as she crossed the Beargrease starting line. She grinned as her team pulled through the first sharp turn on the course, and then she was gone from sight, left to run alone through the snowy woods.

When she returns to Kuusamo after the race, Aikio will be bringing home more than some Beargrease souvenirs -- she'll also have a 10-month-old puppy to add to her growing team, a gift from the Frekings.

Duluth News Tribune, Jan. 30, 2006