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The Beargrease Legend Lives On, March 10, 2003


Rita Wehseler, 2003 John Beargease Sled Dog Marathon

Photo by Rhonda Silence
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 place.

The Beargrease Legend lives on

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, Minnesota.
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.



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