Sled dogs help launch Phoenix Winter Games for injured service personnel and veterans.
Teams of Alaskan Malamutes from the Alaskan Malamute Working Association (AMWA) and Sled Dogs as Therapy have been providing an insight into the breed, sporting fun and excitement to injured service personnel and veterans taking part in a competitive Sled Dog Scurry, as part of the Phoenix Winter Games at Tedworth House, Hants.
The teams travelled from the West Midlands, Gloucestershire as well as two Wiltshire based teams to the day long event.
Themes of the Games are fun and competition playing an important role in the recovery programme for the soldiers and veterans, who formed teams from the Recovery Centres across the country including Catterick, Colchester, Plymouth and Tidworth.
The Recovery Centres take turns to host the games each year during the summer and winter. It’s a friendly competition enabling the service personnel and veterans to participate in sports together and build camaraderie, lifting the spirits and morale.
Battleback Warrant Officer Darren Crowle added, “It is a boost to part of the recovery process, returning to that competitive spirit in a fair and non-judgemental environment. It is a full week of sports including skiing, sledge hockey and clay pigeon shooting”.
“Alaskan Malamutes are freight dogs, weighting about 40 kilos. By nature they travel long distances across a variety of terrains, in often bitterly cold and wet weather conditions making them ideal animals to pull dog sleds”, according to the day’s organiser and Alaskan Malamute owner Steve Whitfield, of Durrington.
Steve (55), who served for 23 years in the Army, said: “We are here to help those in need and hope that they enjoy the day and learn a little bit about this fascinating breed of dog”.
Shane Kennedy from Sled Dogs as Therapy, spoke about the role the dogs and the interaction with the service personnel and veterans, “It means the world to them. Some of them really open up during the day and connect with the dogs. Some veterans who took part last year, have made their way here today just to watch, as they have fond memories from the previous event”.
Travelling with the Colchester team was Sandra Gosney (Support and Activity Co-ordinator at Colchester Recovery Centre), she stated, “This is a great opportunity to come away and meet other veterans, take on the physical challenge in different activities and hopefully take the cup back to Colchester”.
Following an introduction to the breed, safety briefs and demonstrations, and the opportunity to get to know the dogs, the soldiers and veterans got to try out the dog rigs with their allocated Alaskan Malamute teams.
The course consisted of a 50m chute, where the teams could race to the finishing line.
Other team members form a F1-style pit lane team, with each one playing a vital role holding the excitable dogs at the ready, and keeping the dog rig steady before the off. The excitement on the start line is palpable, as the countdown to the start begins.
Atfer his run, Veteran John Joyce (61) agreed, “The biggest thrill and incredible feeling is once those wheels start turning, these dogs are unbelievable”. His colleague ex Royal Navy Veteran Andy Jones (52), added, “That was absolutely brilliant, I’ve not had so much fun in ages. Those dogs just want to keep going and run”.