Aroostook County -  Life is anything but boring these days for TAMC nurse Jessica Holmes.  Aside from her full-time job caring for patients at The County’s largest medical center, she is working hard to prepare two sled dog teams to compete in the upcoming Can-Am Crown Sled Dog Races in Fort Kent on February 28.

TAMC

This will mark her fifth year running a team in one of the shorter-legs of the race known as the Iditarod of the East.  She will run her Alaskan Huskies in the 30-mile challenge; the same race in which her good mushing friend John Kaleta will run her team of Alaskan hounds.

Over the years, Holmes has taken part in both the 30- and 60-mile races while a college student earning her bachelor of science in nursing degree from the University of Maine at Fort Kent, and working most of that time as a certified nurse assistant at TAMC.  After graduating in December 2013 and passing her state board of nursing licensure exam last spring, Holmes had planned to challenge herself, and her four-legged extended family, with the 250-mile race in 2015.

“Our plans to run the Can Am Crown 250 were put on hold early in the year because of an injury I sustained during training. Thankfully none of the dogs were hurt in the accident,” said Holmes.

Undaunted and more determined than ever, Holmes and her sled dog teams are looking forward to “having fun” competing in the shorter race at the end of the month.  She does, however, still have her sights set on taking on the “big one” next year.

“Things are going fine now.  My dreams are still in place. I didn’t realize how demanding the first year out of school is. With the help of the wonderful people at TAMC, I finally feel settled in my career, and we are back on track with my team,” said Holmes. “This year didn't exactly meet up with my plans, but as my motto goes with the dogs, you assess, adapt, and keep mushing on! Immediately after the races we will start preparing for next years Can Am Crown 250 and many more.”

That determination is nothing that surprises Holmes’ family, friends and work colleagues at TAMC.  Raising sled dogs was something she had wanted to do for almost as long as she can remember, but which she finally made happen at about the same time as she began to pursue her nursing career.

“I got my first team after my freshman year of college. I had a few people against it because of how demanding both mushing and nursing school would be, but mushing was something I had always wanted to do as a kid, and I was not afraid of how hard it was going to be. I actually proved those people wrong. I still made the Dean's list and did well with my team,” she said. “I tell everyone that without my crew, I don't think I would have made it through nursing school and still been sane.”

According to Holmes the “down season” (late spring to summer) is less demanding, although there is still plenty to do -- cleaning the dog yard, feeding, spending time with the dogs, letting them have free play, and fixing boxes.

When the time approaches for training to begin, however, then Holmes must carefully manage her time between her career as a nurse and her dogs. She enjoys the challenge of finding a way to do it all.

“During the season (early fall to late spring), it does get tricky with the long hard runs. But we do the long runs on the days I’m not working and the shorter runs on days I do work. We also hire a handler that helps so much with the crew year round. Another thing that helps a lot is the fact that I work the night shift. I feed before I go in for work, then feed breakfast after work, do my chores and then go home and go to sleep. Then get up and do it all again. If it’s during the season, I would fit a short run in before I go to sleep.”

As for racing, Holmes and her team compete in as many local races as possible and some races in southern Maine. They begin training before there is even snow on the ground.

“In the fall we start with a four wheeler and do short, slow, hard pulls to build their muscles. In the winter we start the longer runs with weight in the sled to build endurance,” she said.

Fortunately, TAMC encourages their employees to have hobbies and lives outside of work, understanding that what their staff does in their spare time helps to make them more relaxed and comfortable with the patients when they do come to work.

“TAMC has been amazing with scheduling. When I ask for days off they make sure those days are available for me. Everyone I work with is very supportive and encouraging of me and the dogs. Everyone is wishing me luck,” said Holmes.

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