FORT KENT — Becki Tucker has virtually no memory of a serious ATV accident four years ago, when a problem with the machine’s steering column caused her to fall in front of her home and suffer a head injury. She was in a coma and on a ventilator for four days and suffered balance problems and other neurological issues for weeks.
“I had planned to start doing 100-mile races that year,” the Voluntown, Conn., musher said on her way to the Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races on Friday. “One of the first races I planned to do was just a couple of months after my first visit to my neurologist. So my first question to him was, ‘I’m going to be ready to do this race, right?’ And he looked at me like I was crazy and said, ‘Ah, no.’”
With the injury and the extensive rehabilitation that Tucker’s full recovery required, many mushers would have stashed the sled for good. But not Tucker, one of a number of strong females taking part in the Can-Am over the weekend. And while women have won two of the three races, no woman has captured the Irving Woodlands Can-Am 250-mile crown, something all of the female mushers want to see changed. Rita Lensing became the first woman ever to cross the 250-mile finish line in 2001, capturing seventh place in the race, according to race officials.
The mushers are taking part in three different races. There is the Willard Jalbert Jr. Can-Am 60-mile race, the Pepsi Bottling of Aroostook/Allen’s Coffee Brandy Can-Am 30-mile race and the weekend’s flagship event, the Irving Woodlands Can-Am 250-mile race.
Jaye Foucher of New Portland is taking part in the 250-mile race for the fifth time. She has had to scratch from the race twice due to injury, but was looking forward to taking part in this year’s event. She said that she was hooked on racing since her first event.
“It took me five and a half hours to finish my first 30-mile race,” she recalled. “I went back the next year and finished it more than an hour faster. The race marshal was so shocked at how much I’d improved that he thought I had taken a shortcut.”
She said that she is surprised that a female musher has not yet won the Can-Am 250.
“They are certainly capable, and I think it may be just a matter of time,” she said. “Women seem to have an advantage on the sled in terms of weight. Its physically tough, but women are taking part and completing the race with the men.”
Kasey McCarty of Lexington, Maine, was running the 250-mile race for the first time. She had done several 100-mile races, and when they were over, she “always wanted to go further.”
She also said that she thinks it may just be a matter of time before a female musher seizes the 250 crown.
“Males have an advantage in that they are stronger in terms of moving the sled, but women tend to be lighter on the sled,” she noted. “I think that a number of male mushers in the Can-Am have been racing longer, and experience pays off.”
Fredericka Hibbs of Millinocket, 14, continues watching her counterparts as she advances in the field. She ran the 30-mile race last year and was entered again on Saturday with her six-dog team. She plans to do the 250-mile race when she gets older and said that she does not feel at a disadvantage because she is a female.
Tucker said that training dogs for the 250-mile race is entirely different than training a team for the 30- and 60-mile races, and that more males than females have been entering over the years.
“They have more experience, but slowly, I think that the women are catching up,” she said. “In time, and with more experience, a woman is going to cross the finish line first, guaranteed.”