Allan Benjamin exudes a sense of accomplishment. Trophies crowd the wooden crossbeam above his kitchen and living room. Medals on colourful ribbons dangle from most of the trophies. These might as well be vacation photos because Benjamin spends his holidays in competition.
Born and raised in Old Crow, Yukon, he took part in his first official competition outside of town when he was 28, winning a snowshoe race in Fort Yukon, Alaska. The 61-year-old recently finished second in the men’s 60-65 division at the Victoria Marathon. And last summer, he won six gold and three silver medals in track and field at the Masters Indigenous Games in Toronto.
Benjamin, a storyteller, cartoonist and weather observer at the airport, tours me through his impeccably tidy home. Decorations are sparse, minus the trophies and medals. His small, black poodle-cross, Puddles, watches closely from the corner of the room and barks until we feed her a Kraft cheese slice. Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ plays on repeat.
“Nothing will surpass this,” Benjamin says, pointing to the tallest of his trophies. With a time of 18 hours and one second, he won the 1993 Iditashoe—a 100-mile snowshoe race in Anchorage, Alaska that follows part of the same trail as the Iditarod dogsled race. His nearest competitor—a former repeat winner—was just one second behind him.
After competitions, people always ask where Old Crow is, Benjamin says. He shows me. Up the hill beyond town, we walk to his cabin. Here, he has a panoramic view of the mountains: the Richardson Mountains to the east, the Crow to the southwest and the British Range and Barn mountains to the north. We’re at the confluence of the Crow and Porcupine rivers, 75 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle.
Competitors ask about his training methods, too. “It’s just natural to snowshoe,” he says. And he runs every day—at least, when it’s warm enough. Then Benjamin points out the triangular rocks he uses as starting blocks, a rock that weighs about as much as a shot-put, and a shaved stick that substitutes for a javelin.