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Racers enjoy Great Bear Chase

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Skiers John Boudry of Waukesha, Wisconsin; Lily Den Hartog of Minnetonka, Minnesota; Mark Gehlsen of Minneapolis; and Duane Lee of Lindstrom, Minneapolis come around the bend during Saturday’s Great Bear Chase.

CALUMET TOWNSHIP — This year’s Great Bear Chase drew a record crowd of close to 900 racers, many making their debut.

For Penny Tussing, it wasn’t just her first time in the Great Bear Chase, but first skiing race ever. Tussing, a physical therapist in Marquette, also recruited friend Becky Fox, a teacher in Ishpeming to compete in the 10k race.

“There’s a lot going uphill, so next year we have to practice that,” Tussing said. “But it was beautiful. Even the faster skiers were skiing around us. Everyone was very encouraging.”

Just after finishing, Fox and Tussing were already vowing to come back and beat this year’s time.

“We don’t know what it is yet, but we’re going to beat it,” Tussing said.

Also competing in the 10-kilometer race was Joseph Sweeney of Madison, Wisconsin. He was inspired by “a couple glasses of red wine” at his girlfriend’s parents’ house. Her father is an elite skier, while his girlfriend is a triathlete, he said.

They live close to the Birkebeiner, America’s largest cross-country race. But Sweeneys’ girlfriend’s father told him the skiers at Great Bear Chase are better on average. That could be because of the dedication needed to come all this way, Sweeney said.

“This is the pinnacle,” he said.

Sweeney called it one of the friendliest sporting communities he’s seen.

“I just walked into the parking lot and made good friends who told me his whole life story in five minutes,” he said.

That’s part of what has kept many people coming back. Eric Funkenbusch, of Hudson, Wisconsin, competed in his first Great Bear Chase 30 years ago. A Copper Country native, he likes coming back to see the area.

“It’s gotten more professional, a lot bigger,” he said. “It’s still really nice.”

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