Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon On Again

On again off again seems to be the norm for the Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon these past few years.  Let’s wish them luck with keeping it on…

Beargrease sled-dog race back on

Tone Coughlin said a group of about 10 mushers and John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon fans got together over the weekend and made plans to make the race happen.

By: Mike Creger, Duluth News Tribune

John Stetson, who won the Beargrease’s mid-distance race in 2005 and 2006, talks to the race’s board of directors Monday, Oct. 21, 2013. Listening is Linda Nervick, a marketing and public relations consultant who was involved with the race from 2002 to 2011. The two are members of a group that is taking over the event with plans to hold a race this winter. (Steve Kuchera /

Tone Coughlin minced no words after he was allowed to speak at the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon board meeting.

“We request a change in leadership,” he said plainly.

With that, a peaceful coup took place in the Beargrease office with new volunteers vowing to put the race on for 2014. The now former board announced last week that it didn’t have enough money to run the 30th marathon in January. With the new interest, board members all agreed to a proposal allowing the new group to take over the race.

“There’s a huge upswell of people willing to help and keep it going,” said musher John Stetson.

He said the talk of new leadership has drawn the interest of new and old sponsors of the race, which has only a few thousand dollars in its checkbook.

Coughlin said a group of about 10 mushers and Beargrease race fans got together over the weekend and made plans to make the race happen.

Jason Rice said no one in the new leadership group was pointing fingers at the current board members. He said they are sensitive to how “nerve wracking” the past few years have been as they have struggled to pay for the event that costs about $50,000 a year to run.

“We’re willing to step up,” Rice said.

Board Vice President Geoff Vukelich said the rise of support for the race was surprising. He said calls for new board members and leadership have been made in the past with little or no response. He said the flock of people at the board meeting in the downtown Duluth office was the only time he’d seen people at a meeting outside of board members.

“If this is what it takes, I’m all for it,” Vukelich said. “I love the race more than I have an ego.”

He said he will take time off and not participate in organizing the race for at least a couple of years. Board members were asked to let the new volunteers know if they wanted to stay on or take on a particular part of the organizing.

“I’m tired,” Vukelich said. “We’ve tried to get new blood, and now we have a complete transfusion.”

“I don’t want this race to die,” race director Pat Olson told the new group. “If you step up, I’m OK with it.”

Vukelich said the board could have run a race but the purse would have been $106, something that wouldn’t attract racers.

“The problem is, if we didn’t have snow, we’d owe more people money,” he said.

The phone at the office had been shut off and the board gave notice that it would vacate the office it rents for $400 by Nov. 1. It had plans to auction off race memorabilia to raise money.

Rice said the rent would be paid at least for the next month.

Coughlin said the race needs to be run like a business.

“It hasn’t been for a while,” he said.

He said he plans to bring the same approach to the sled dog race that he does as race director of the North Shore Inline Marathon.

He said there needs to be a foundation of income for the event, one buoyed by year-round events.

“This is a tradition,” he said. “Like Grandma’s (Marathon). It needs to happen every year.”

He’s confident that the group can get the race together on schedule with an adequate budget.

The new group requested all the financial reports and other organizational details. It wants to make the transition by the end of the month. It intends to let mushers across the country know immediately that the race is on and registration is open.

Rice said before the meeting that it was poetic justice that snow could be seen zipping sideways outside the Beargrease office windows Monday evening.

“It’s tradition,” Coughlin told the board members. “We need to have this race and keep the spirit of John Beargrease alive.”


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