Sally Manikian from Shelburne, New Hampshire takes off with her team of sled dogs at the start of the Can-Am 100 Saturday, March 5, 2022, in Fort Kent, Maine. Credit: Emily Jerkins / St. John Valley Times

FORT KENT, Maine — A New Hampshire musher defended her In Memory of Willard Jalbert Jr. Can-Am 100 race title Saturday evening when she and her sled dog team crossed the race finish line in Fort Kent.

Sally Manikian, 40, of Shelburne, New Hampshire, topped a field of 14 mushers who completed the 100-mile course.

The Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races returned to northern Aroostook County this weekend after a one-year hiatus caused by fears last year of spreading COVID-19. The three timed races — the 100-mile race, the Pepsi/Native Dog Food Can-Am 30-mile and Irving Woodlands Can-Am Crown 250 — started from Main Street in Fort Kent Saturday morning.

Manikian, who also took first place in the two-leg 100-mile race in 2020, registered a time Saturday of 7:27:09.

Musher Luc Gaudreau of Saint-Denis-de-Brompton, Quebec, finished second in the 100-mile race with a time of 7:36:25, and Rico Portalatin of Milo was third with a time of 7:52:27.

Mushers in the 100-mile race headed to a checkpoint in Allagash where they were required to stay for at least three hours before they returned to the finish line at Lonesome Pine Trails in Fort Kent.

The break at Allagash did not figure into the mushers’ final race times.

Mushers who placed in the Can-Am 30-mile and 100-mile races received awards at a ceremony at the Lonesome Pine Trails Lodge Sunday morning.

Sally Manikian (right) speaks at a Can-Am awards ceremony breakfast at Lonesome Pine Lodge in Fort Kent on Sunday, March 6. The Shelburne, New Hampshire musher and her team won the In Memory of Willard Jalbert Jr. Can-Am 100 race. At left is Can-Am President Dennis Cyr. Credit: Jessica Potila / St. John Valley Times

“I ran the dogs the way we train, and they just kept giving it,” Manikian said at the awards ceremony. “When you get down to it, we are training a group of dogs to perform these extraordinary athletic feats. These dogs draw on instinct, we cultivate it with training and love, but because dogs are dogs you just never know what might happen. I’ve been tearing up about how proud I am of these dogs.”

Manikian said that of the many sled dog races she has run, “Can-Am stands alone.”

“All races are a community endeavor, but Can-Am envelops the whole community in a way I haven’t seen elsewhere. There is a spirit of Can Am, a celebration of friends, community, and landscape and forest,” Manikian said.

Can-Am mushers who placed in the Pepsi/Native Dog Food Can-Am 30-mile and In Memory of Willard Jalbert Jr. Can-Am 100 races received these awards at a ceremony at Lonesome Pine Trails in Fort Kent on Sunday, March 6. Credit: Jessica Potila / St. John Valley Times

Gaudreau said at the ceremony that his 14-year-old son Gabriel, who was planning to run his first sled dog race in the Can-Am 30-mile this year, had to drop from the race due to testing positive for COVID-19 on Friday.

“He is really, really bummed out. He helped me train the dogs all season long so I guess this prize is for him,” Gaudreau said.

Mushers were offered free COVID-19 tests at the Lonesome Pine Trails Lodge after the awards ceremony Sunday morning.

As of Sunday afternoon, mushers and their teams were still on the course in the Irving Woodlands Can-Am Crown 250, and were expected to begin charging across the finish line as soon as early Monday morning.

Can-Am President Dennis Cyr, himself a former musher, helps to calm a sled dog as a team prepares to take off from the starting gate on Main Street in Fort Kent on Saturday. Credit: Jessica Potila / St. John Valley Times

Can-Am President Dennis Cyr said that heavy snow falling Sunday would benefit mushers in the premier race, as it would allow volunteer trail groomers to fill in rough spots in the trails made by teams from the other two races.

Diane Marquis of St.-Medard, Quebec, won the 30-mile race on Saturday.