Photo by Rhonda
Rita Wehseler of Tofte was in fifth place at the
midpoint of the 2003 John Beargrease Sled Dog
Marathon. She's pictured above with one member
of her team, Wilma. Wehseler finished in ninth
The Beargrease Legend
The 21st running of the
John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon is over. Cliff
Wang of Isabella, Minnesota crossed the finish
line at 3:55 p.m. on Tuesday, March 4, to become
the winner of the 2003 John Beargrease Sled Dog
Marathon. The winner of the Mid-Distance Race
was Robyn Smith of Forest Lake, Minnesota,
gliding into the Poplar Lake finish line at 9:06
a.m. on Monday, March 3, just 13 minutes ahead
of second place racer, J.R. Anderson of Ray,
The Marathon included racers from Minnesota,
Michigan, Wisconsin, North Dakota and
Montana-and only two mushers from Cook County.
Rita Wehseler, of Tofte, finished in 9th place,
dropping from her 3rd place finishes in 2001 and
2002. Wehseler previously received the
"Best Kept Team Award" and at the
Poplar Lake Trail Center Check-point it was easy
to see why. Wehseler's husband Bill was feeding
the team prime rib scraps, collected by a friend
who works at the Blackwoods Restaurant in Two
Harbors. Waiting in the truck was some beaver
meat. "That's our secret weapon," said
Bill Wehseler with a grin.
Pausing for a minute during Veterinarian checks,
Rita Wehseler said that was just one way that
friends and family helped out. Her sister made
her unique pink racing parka. "This is a
family event-a community event," she said.
Another racer with a supportive family was
Charlie LaBoda of Hovland. He has been involved
in mushing "as long as he can
remember," helping out with the family's
kennel of 66 dogs. Unfortunately, his first
Beargrease attempt was unsuccessful-he scratched
at the Sawbill Check-point on the return trip.
Dennis LaBoda, Charlie's father, had better luck
in the Mid-Distance Marathon. He finished the
135.3 mile race in 11th place. The elder LaBoda
has extensive mushing experience. He has
participated in previous Beargrease races as a
musher, handler, race official, musher
representative and board member. He won the
mid-distance race in 1992.
Other Cook County residents in the Mid-Distance
Race were Robin Beall of Grand Marais, who
finished in 9th place and Eric Larsen of Grand
Marais, in 17th. Beall, a retired nurse,
maintains a kennel of 45 dogs. Larsen raced with
a team of dogs from her kennel.
After crossing the finish line, mushers and
handlers and dogs loaded into distinctive kennel
pickup trucks and headed away on Highway 61.
Heading home, or to the next race, they have the
satisfaction of knowing that they have earned a
place in North Shore history. They have become
part of the John Beargrease legend.