Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Whitehorse Star

ROAD RELAY CANCELLED — The F.H. Team leg 7 runner Nathan Bingham, left, takes the time fob from teammate Charlie Fent at the Carcross checkpoint of the 2019 Klondike Trail of ‘98 International Road Relay. The 2020 rendition of the race has been shuttered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Photo by Whitehorse Star

Tracey Bilsky

Road Relay cancelled due to COVID-19

For the first time since 1983, the Klondike International Trail of ‘98 Road Relay has been cancelled due to COVID-19.

By John Tonin on May 6, 2020

For the first time since 1983, the Klondike International Trail of ‘98 Road Relay has been cancelled due to COVID-19.

A press release from Sport Yukon said the Klondike Road Relay (KRR) committee has been hard at work weighing all the options to host a safe race in September. However, with the uncertainty of where things will be at that time and the amount of financial commitment that goes into pulling the race off, it is with great sadness that the decision to cancel the 2020 race was made.

Race Coordinator Sandra Soares said, even if restrictions are eased before September, the KRR in its standard format will not be held.

“Because of the amount of planning and behind the scenes work it would be impossible to run it with so many unknowns,” said Soares.

Adding to the complications is the international aspect of the race. Soares said Alaskans make up a large portion of entries and that they don’t want to exclude anyone.

With the physical distancing requirements, crossing international borders, maintaining full checkpoints and the team relay format would make it impossible to create and manage a safe race for volunteers and participants without changing the race entirely, said the release.

Instead of the traditional race from Skagway, Alaska to Rotary Peace Park in Whitehorse, Soares said they are working toward developing a virtual event.

“We have been looking into options and speaking to timing companies,” said Soares. “We have been networking to make a fun event for the community.

“We don’t want anyone to be excluded so we are going to focus on the virtual event.”

Soares said they are hoping to open registration for the virtual event by mid-May and the finale to be held in either August or September.

To prepare, Soares said she has been working with Don White to create weekly challenge videos on their social media pages, Facebook and Instagram, to connect people with their fellow racers.

“We want to start the weekly challenges to get people training and active,” said Soares. “Hopefully it is something people can look forward too.”

Soares said the weekly videos will offer different challenges. Sometimes it could be a learn to run challenge, or a distance challenge. She said there will also be a running uphill instructional video.

Once a challenge is complete, participants will be encouraged to upload their results and photos to social media to stay engaged with their peers.

Soares said despite the cancellation of the race, people have been understanding of the decision and that the hope remains that in 2021 they can organize a great event for everyone.

The Klondike Road Relay is Sport Yukon’s largest fundraiser and executive director Tracey Bilsky said the cancellation of the race will be a big hit to their bottom line.

“We will take a significant hit,” said Bilsky. “What we bring in as revenue will be less. We are going to have to approve budgets once we hold our AGM and it’s going to be a big discussion point on where to cut funds.”

Bilsky said the Road Relay generates around $60,000 for Sport Yukon. Because of the cancellation, Bilsky said they are investigating the Temporary Support for Events funding Program to help groups who had to cancel events.

“We are going to see if the fund gets extended so we aren’t limping through the whole year,” said Bilsky.

As reported on April 2 by the Star, the fund is to help businesses recoup losses from the cancellation of events slated to take place between March 7 and July 31 – organizers of eligible gatherings must have expected more than 50 people.

The 2019 race had 204 official teams.

For 20 years, the late Buckwheat Donahue was part of the organizing committee and was the race’s official starter in Skagway – Donahue passed away in October at age 68.

“He helped with the first two checkpoints on the American side,” said Bilsky after his passing. “He was the lifeblood of the start of the race. He made people feel like it was the most special race.”

Each race began with a howl.

Bilsky said the plan before the cancellation of the race was to honour Donahue, who loved bringing Alaskans and Yukoners together, at the start. Now with the race shuttered, she said they will think of a way to honour him, but she is leaning toward doing it next year.

The 2021 race is slated to begin September 10, in Skagway. The race follows the trail of the Gold Rush Stampeders over the White Pass, through British Colombia and into the Yukon.

The 175-kilometre relay is broken into 10 legs varying in distance.

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