Interviews

Interview with Jamaican Dog Sledder, Damian Robb

Written by Xavier Murphy

Jamaican BonHommes (Snowmen)

A few months ago, some interesting information was posted in our Sports Discussion Forum about new Jamaican sportsmen travelling away from the warmth, sun and sand to participate in a fairly unknown sport, one of man and beast – the Dogsled Race.

A couple years ago, while in Edmonton, Canada, Danny Melville from Chukka Caribbean Tours was looking for dune buggies for his business back home in Jamaica. He came across the makings of a rather odd piece of equipment, which not only became the latest addition to the activities offered to tourists at Chukka Tours, but something much bigger! 

Pretty soon, dog sleds were built to glide over sand and grass, a variety of dogs were adopted from the Jamaican Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Jamaica Dog Sled Team was born. A large kennel was created, more dogs adopted, and a few young men recruited to care for the dogs. Seemed like a good opportunity for under employed and inexperienced young men needing steady employment, and provided a caring environment for the strays who had no real home.

Newton Marshall and Damian Robb were a couple of the recruits selected over the past three years to not only work with the dogs, but train with them as mushers. Through our discussion boards, we followed their progress in 2008, and became excited for their race schedule in 2009. 

Marshall and the Jamaican Team had qualified to compete in the Yukon Quest, Covering 1,000 miles between Whitehorse, Yukon and Fairbanks, Alaska through the toughest part of winter and the roughest challenge to a team of dogs and their musher. Qualifying is a feat in itself, but Marshall completed the Quest, finishing 13 out of 29 teams, and was presented the Challenge of the North Award as the musher who most exemplifies the Spirit of the Yukon Quest, a spirit that compels one to challenge themselves and persevere in spite of all odds against them”.

As Marshall was training for the Quest in the far northern extremes, Robb was training with Ken Davis and competing with his dog team from Elfstone Kennels in Twig, Minnesota. Robb and Davis toured the dog race circuit through Quebec and Ontario, Canada and ended the season with a variety of races held in Minnesota, USA. Dog Sled fans were not disappointed! Robb placed high in the ranks with every race he entered. Fortunately for Jamaicans.com, one of our members – Nanook, is an avid and knowledgeable dog sled fan, AND lives near the race venues in Minnesota… with a little nudge and smile, she agreed to cover one of the races and was able to meet up with Robb for a quick interview.

Nanook: How long have you been mushing dogs?

Robb: 3 years. Rob has spent 2 winters sprint mushing in the States and Canada. He spent one additional year in Minnesota with Ken to learn.

Nanook: What attracted you to the sport?

Robb: I love animals. I started in Jamaica on cart.

Nanook: Do you remember the first time you rode behind a dog team? What was it like?

Robb: It was like something new. Not like anything I could think of.

Nanook: How difficult was it to adjust to Ken’s team, and they to you?

Robb: I spend the time at the kennel at Ken’s and get to know them.

Nanook: Where is the base camp located?

Robb: At Musher Ken Davis’s home in Twig Minnesota.

Nanook: How many dogs does Ken have in his kennel?

Robb: 23

Nanook: How fast do the dogs run in the sprint races?

Robb: About 20 mph

Nanook: Have you had any bad mushing experiences?

Robb: I’ve never gotten hurt and never lost the team. (I guess that is a NO)

Nanook: What is missing that you would like to include for your own personal enjoyment between races?

Robb: Sports

Nanook: Do you get much chance to prepare your own meals on the road?

Robb: No

Nanook: Do you find it difficult to obtain the food items you prefer, or do you settle for what is available.

Robb: Yes it is difficult. I just go with what is available.

Nanook: What is your favorite food on the trail?

Robb: Soups, Lasagna

Nanook: Congratulations to Newton and the team with the 13th place finish in the Yukon Quest. That is quite an accomplishment itself. Winning the coveted “Spirit of the Yukon” Award! How has that experience changed your view on your career path? Not just because you have proved yourselves worthy to compete and being a contender as opposed to being viewed as a publicity stunt?

Robb: yes. (laugh)

Nanook: What would you like to see for next years schedule? Does the team have any aspirations of competing in “the Last Great Race”, the Iditarod, or our Beargrease?

Robb: Not sure, possible.

Nanook: What about the Sprint races for you?

Robb: The North American and World Championships

Nanook: Any final comments about sled dog sports you would like to share?

Robb: Yes, if you come to Jamaica come take the Chukka tour.

For more photos from this weekend – visit the newly created Pet Forum http://www.jamaicans.com/forums/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=942121&page=1

Nanook’s Summary

High points in this winter’s expedition in addition to meeting Robb, but getting to spend time with his trainer Ken and wife Donna and also meeting local teacher Mark Ostazeski who was kind enough to allow us to post some of his photos captured that weekend. Donna (Ken’s wife) stays home while Ken and Robb hit the road to the sled dog races so she can take care of the dogs that stay home, plus she works a normal job.

I joked with Robb about how he is backwards from the rest of us. We that live in the cold climate come to Jamaica in winter, but he comes during winter from Jamaica! I asked him if his friends think he is mad and he said “no they know I am all right”. It was really cute.

Robb was well liked by everyone there. He was outgoing and not shy at all and it was great seeing him be so accepted. I wasn’t surprised though, after all, this is Minnesota, right? Home of Minnesota niceness!

A lot of the focus was on the stray dogs they help in Jamaica and that seems to be the focus of Robb’s attention as well, they really care about the dogs they are helping.

To learn more about the Jamaican Dog Sled Team and their Sun Dogs, visit their main site and blog at:

http://www.jamaicadogsled.com/

http://www.jamaicadogsled.blogspot.com/

To contribute to the SUN DOGS check out their DVD
”From the sun-kissed beaches and tropical paradise of Jamaica comes a story of second chances. Rescued from the mean streets and animal shelters of Kingston, 12 stray dogs are trained to be the stars of Jamaica’s first dog sled racing team. The crew, spearheaded by pop superstar Jimmy Buffett, brings the unlikely meeting of a traditionally snow-bound sport to the sand and surf.

But it is not just the dogs that are given a second chance. The team’s dog mushers are given the opportunity of a lifetime as they cultivate their love of animals while receiving an education and traveling the world.

Together this motley, mutt-ley crew is winning hearts AND winning races.

MUSH MON!”

Enjoy the Sun Dog experience for yourself http://www.chukkacaribbean.com/dogsled.php

About the author

Xavier Murphy