Blyth's Luke Siertsema featured in new Huron Hygge series
BY DENNY SCOTT
Local sled dog breeder, trainer and racer Luke Siertsema hosts one of the highlights of the new Huron Hygge “Home Sweet Home” category of projects which focuses on family-friendly activities.
Siertsema, who is the second generation of sled dog breeders and trainers in his family, and an accomplished sled dog sprint racer in his own right, will be taking Huron County residents on a virtual dog sled training run on his family’s training loop located on the outskirts of Blyth. The virtual reality experience should be on the Huron Hygge website at ontarioswestcoast.ca/huronhygge/ in the coming days, Siertsema said.
He said the unique experience is beneficial not only for the people who will enjoy the video, but also for himself, as it can shine a light on what kind of activities are available in people’s backyards.
“Basically, they strap some [Go-Pro cameras] on me, I do an interview, tell about each of the dogs and explain why I do what I do, and then I go for a run,” Siertsema said.
The video will likely run between 20 and 25 minutes, he said, as his trail runs take 15 minutes, plus the additional content.
Siertsema’s father, who lives on the west side of the village, and Siertsema, who bought a home on North Street in Blyth approximately five years ago, share a training loop that runs from just outside of Siertsema’s front door into the bush, then to his father’s house, providing quite an experience for the ride, he said.
Sprint racing in the dog racing world consists of shorter races that can range from a mere four miles to distances as long as 100 miles.
Siertsema started in the industry as his father’s helper, and, over the years, he got into racing competitively, earning his way to the world championships in 2017.
He said his goal is to continue to work with his father on that legacy, building the kennel into a long-term winning kennel.
Normally, he’d have tales of preparing for and participating in this racing season, but the races this year have been cancelled due to COVID-19. Siertsema was disappointed because he was looking to build on the success of last season, when he claimed victories in at least one category in most of the race events in his circuit. That experience, he said, was an affirmation of his ambitions.
“It’s good to see the dogs have the desire and the love to do it, and also to see they have the longevity to keep at it,” he said. “It confirms our pedigrees and our breeding.”
The exposure the Huron Hygge program will offer him is important, Siertsema said, as when races start back up, if there are still complications from COVID-19, it will be difficult to show the sport to people.
“The big problem for dog sprint racers and organizations is that there won’t be able to be many spectators,” he said.
His form of racing is already difficult to accommodate spectators, he said, as most of the racing takes place off the beaten path, meaning that people usually only see the start or the finish. “The rest is in the bush or far away,” he said.
As a result, it can be difficult to find sponsors, especially if the COVID-19 pandemic persists.
“If that can get going, get off the ground, then [my father and I are] feeling really good about the race season,” he said. “We have dogs that have been racing for several years, including the world championship team from 2017. They’re in their prime and loving it.”
He said he has the next generation of racers already training, and anxious, to get going.
“We’ve got a litter from last year and we just got them into harness training for the first time ever last week,” he said. “It’s amazing, they just knew what to do when they got into the harness. It’s like they were doing it forever.”
He said a great racer and a healthy dog is one that’s working, so he’s glad to be able to give his dogs a purpose.
The pandemic, however, has Siertsema thinking about ways to bring the races to spectators in a safe way while making considerations of his future ambitions.
One of Siertsema’s long-term goals is to actually have a race in the Blyth area.
“If my dad and I start a race in Blyth, we would have trail cams and indoor video set up for people to watch,” he said. “We want to get the public into it and allow them to fully enjoy the amazing sport that spring racing is in the dog sledding world.”
HOME SWEET HOME
The “Home Sweet Home” initiative under the Huron Hygge umbrella is partly the brainchild of Annie Sparling and the Blyth Community Betterment Group, which worked with Huron Hygge organizers and stakeholders to come up with the family-friendly activities like Siertsema’s video.
Other events include a selfie contest on the Goderich-to-Guelph Rail Trail near Blyth called “Find the Fox”, where walkers need to find the Hygge Fox logo and snap a selfie and post it on the North Huron Recreation Facebook page to be entered into a draw for a one-month family membership at the North Huron Wescast Community Complex.
The events are split into outdoor events like the selfie contest, scavenger hunts, snowshoeing and fat biking, and indoor events like a virtual magic show, family yoga and Siertsema’s virtual dog sled ride.
For more information, visit ontarioswestcoast.ca/huronhygge/family-hygge/.