The South African 'boytjie' with the dog-sledding dream

2016-03-16 09:36

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Cape Town – When a small-town Afrikaner fell for a Norwegian woman, he had no idea that his love would lead to him competing in the longest dog-sled race in the world.

The tale began when Jean-Pierre Bussio,from Clanwilliam in the Western Cape, met his fiancée Heidi Myrtveit. They moved to colder climes with his Boxer, Zeus, and got a Siberian husky for company for his dog.

Before they knew it, their home in Frekhaug in Norway was filled with 13 Siberian huskies and their hearts filled with a love for each other and a passion for dog sledding.

Bussio, 27, is set on becoming the first South African to compete in a number of international dog-sledding races in the 2017 season. This includes Iditarod Great Sled Race in Alaska, the longest in the world at around 1 800km.

“I am much more motivated to prove that someone who comes from a country like this, where there is warm weather and sunshine, can go to a place like that and be competitive and do something,” he told News24 with a smile in a recent interview.

It was just a year ago when he got his first proper taste of being a ‘pack leader’. Needless to say, he toppled over in the snow after taking a corner with his brand-new dog team.

Never let go

Jean-Pierre with his fiancee Heidi and their Huskies. (Photos supplied)

“The number one rule on a sled is never let go. The dogs dragged me a little but stopped eventually,” he recalled of the outing in Sweden.

The light was quickly fading as he made his way up the mountain with two other teams. The wind was blowing and the snow came down. He lost sight of the teams ahead.

“I was panicking and screaming but nobody could hear me. I thought this was my last day on the mountain,” Bussio said.

But without faltering, his well-trained leader dog followed the track ahead religiously and led them out of danger. “It was quite an adventure and got me hooked. The adrenaline was pumping and it was exciting.”

By day, Bussio is a project manager at a construction company. His hours differ to his fiancé, 29, who has a pole dance studio. They train in their off hours, weekends and over holidays but the dream is to become full-time 'mushers'.

Make history?

The competitive advantage with going full-time is a no-brainer. While they manage to squeeze in 2 500km of sledding between August and December, the full-timers get in around 6 000km.

The established teams also have more stamina, dogs in their best performance years, and the freedom to pack up and go where the snow is.

“This is not a career you are going to drive a Ferrari with. But that is not the life I care about. I don’t care about fancy things,” Bussio said.

Myrtveit leaned into him and added, “We feed them before we eat”.

The new racing season kicks off on January 1 next year.

If they can find sponsors for a lighter sled, proper winter attire and a quad bike for training, Bussio believes they’ll have a fighting chance to “make history”.

“It’s not like hanging a bicycle up in the garage and saying 'I am done'. You can’t stop. But you get reward in the dogs.”

Read more on:    good news  |  animals

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