ON THE GUNFLINT TRAIL, Minn. — Martha Schouweiler received hugs and congratulations as she walked into Trail Center Lodge on Monday morning, Jan. 29.
Schouweiler crossed the finish line at 6:34 a.m. Monday for her fourth consecutive title in the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon mid-distance race. She set a record last year with her third win in the 120-mile event, and it was rewarding to see hard work, mixed with a little luck, pay off a fourth time, she said.
Schouweiler has missed racing in the Beargrease only a few times in the past 15 years, and it took years of competing before she began winning, she said. Schouweiler said she still finds winning the Beargrease multiple times hard to believe.
"When I first started, I just looked at the winners with awe, thinking I would never be a winner. It took 10 years to win — not even the Beargrease, it took 10 years to win CopperDog 40, that was my first win, and then the next year, I think, I won the Beargrease mid-distance. It was absolutely thrilling," she said.
When it comes to her success, she credits her son Chad Schouweiler with the work that goes into training the dogs. They work as a team training the dogs, but Chad plans out the dogs' training regimen, she said.
"He's happy. He's proud. I'm not sure if he's surprised; I don't think he's surprised. I think at this point, he's relieved," she said after winning.
This first two segments of this year's Beargrease mid-distance race were fast and the third section was cold, Martha Schouweiler said. It takes focus and quick responses to keep the dogs safe amid varying conditions on the trail — and focusing on the dogs helps her stay awake, she said.
Too many times in the past, she said, the dogs ended up tangled in a pile up during a moment when she took her focus away.
"I wasn't sightseeing much (this year). My eyes were on the dogs. The first 10 years of mushing, I looked around more," she said.
Jasper Johnston of Ely won the title in the 120-mile junior race, reaching Trail Center at 8:01 a.m. Monday. Johnston also won the junior title in 2017, when it was a 68-mile event.