Ocean, Bear Threat No Deterrent to Alaska Runners

SHAKTOOLIK, AK (December 22, 2010) – The next time athletes complain about the harsh conditions in which they have to play or train, coaches should point them to the current issue of Running Times magazine.

An article features the cross country team from this village of roughly 200 people that had to boat across Norton Sound to get to an athletic meet. The team also had to make sure they were not threatened by bears during preparations for another competition.

There are no roads that lead to the village, and a lack of funding prevented the team from traveling by small airplane to the Unalakleet Cross Country Invitational in September. The team consisted of senior Dorinda Sagoonick, junior Tory Sagoonick and freshman Alex Sampson, who were coached by Seth Krufka.

Palmer Sagoonick, a lay leader of the Shaktoolik Covenant Church, didn’t want the team to miss the meet, so he transported them on the 20-foot skiff he had built for his wife.

He piloted the students across 40 miles of the ocean so the team could compete. The initial trip took two hours, but they were able to shave 20 minutes of their time on the return.

Although it was the first time any team from Shaktoolik had traveled by boat to a competition, Sagoonick says the mode of transportation is otherwise pretty routine.

“To you it might seem like a hazardous and unusual way of travel,” he says, “but this is how we often travel because we don’t have the road system.”

He compared the danger of people driving on highways. “You learn through experience how to travel safely,” Sagoonick says. The passengers wore life vests, but he adds, “It’s like if you were to wear a safety belt while you are driving.”

Sagoonick was motivated to make the trip in part because two grandchildren were on the team. “I really believed you think that your kids are the most precious in the world,” he says. “Then when the grandchildren come, you say, ‘how can it be? They are even more precious.’ ”

The Wolverines also have had to face training hurdles not often encountered by athletes in most places. The regional competition had a large hill, but there were no hills to train on near Shaktoolik (lower photo).

The Wolverines had to travel 11 miles along the coast using four-wheelers – another common mode of transportation – so they could train on hills for the regional championships in Nome.

To be sure the athletes were safe, the coach and several others traveled in front of the team and fired rifles in order to scare any bears, wolves or moose in the area. A week earlier, a bear had chased a family member of Athletic Director Tom Erickson.

Krufka told Running Times, “We wanted to run, and we did whatever we had to do to make that happen.”

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