The Yukon Quest welcomes Rita Antoniak from Nivek Kennel in Fort Smith, Northwest Territories! Rita and her team will be competing in the 100 mile race at the 2022 Yukon Quest.
Rita and her husband Kevin have been raising sled dogs in their hometown of Fort Smith, NWT, since 1982. They started out the traditional way of hooking up the dogs to a toboggan and running them single file. Through trial and error — and with the big help of an experienced leader dog named Turock — they ended up switching to sleds. Ever since, Rita has been “totally obsessed” with recreational mushing. “There’s just something about being out on the trails with your dogs. It can be as cold as cold can be, but you come back home thinking ‘wow, that was just great.’ And you can hardly wait to get back out again,” says Rita. “It’s that feeling of being with the dogs and being outside — it’s a very addictive sport.”
An avid follower of the Yukon Quest and other long distance dog sledding races for nearly three decades, Rita herself has never competed before. She’s thrilled for the opportunity to participate in the Quest, meet the other mushers and hit the trails. “The Quest trail really does sound phenomenal,” says Rita. “When you consider the amount of work that the trail makers do to make and maintain it — I’m really just looking forward to doing a part of the Quest trail with my dogs.”
Rita’s running with an older dog team, including experienced lead dogs Wonder Woman and Ceaser, along with Oakley and Bugaboo, whom she acquired from Ed and Michelle Phillips two years ago. “They will definitely be assets on the trail,” she says. “We’ve always had the philosophy that we would get trained dogs rather than raise litter after litter.” The rookies on the team are yet to be determined. Rita’s waiting for the Slave River, which runs along the town of Fort Smith, to freeze over so she can access a network of lakes, run the dogs longer distances, and make the final call. “But they’re all doing very well. They’re strong.”
As a first-time Quest racer, Rita is anticipating the excitement of participating in the many steps leading up to the actual race, from being a part of the musher’s meeting that takes place before the race to getting the dogs checked by the race veterinarians.
“From what I’ve read about the Quest, even the spectators are a part of the experience — from the volunteers, to organizers, to mushers, everyone is just so dedicated to the dogs and the excitement of it,” she says. “I’m really looking forward to it all.”
(Content: Trina Moyles/ Photo: Rita Antoniak)