Headmaster's Blog

If at First You Don’t Succeed

The Finnmarksløpet is the longest sled dog race in Europe at 1200 kilometres. The race takes teams across the most inhospitable northern region of Norway – Finnmark. The race takes six to eight days and nights over the snow and through blizzards and driving rain. Sleep happens when the dogs are rested. So over one week, daily sleep times are counted in minutes and not hours. There are no comfortable beds. It is just you, the cramped sled, the dogs, the cold, the snow, the ice and the smell.

In March 2018, Hanne Lyrek entered the Finnmark race. She was 18 years old and inexperienced at running races over such a long distance. A few of the other entrants scoffed at the youngster. Hanne looked across at the famous Harald Tunheim, four times winner of the race. He was a fitting favourite. Not far into the race, Hanne’s lead dog fell face forward into the snow. There was chaos as Hanne scrambled to set the team again. Other teams passed her. She tried to make up for lost time. When it happened again, she placed the injured lead dog in the sled with her despite his protests. Now she had one less dog, extra weight in the sled and a struggling, yelping captive that was distracting the rest of the team. The race became an ordeal. One by one the other dogs tired. Harald Tunheim finished the 2018 Finnmarksløpet race in 1st place – for the fifth time. Hanne finished 17th.

In March 2019, one year later, Hanne Lyrek re-entered the Finnmark race. She was 19. Some of the other entrants made jokes. One by one, Hanne passed each of the other contestants. Her dogs were well trained over the 0summer and they were not slowed by sickness or injury. It was night-time on the trail out of Karasjok and about 50 kilometres from the finish when Hanne saw a distant light bobbing up and down. She knew what that meant. It told her that the sled driver ahead was using his own legs to push back into the snow and help his dogs go faster. Hanne was catching.


Finally she could make out the sled ahead but could not believe it. It was Harald Tunheim, the champion, and she was catching him. Harald redoubled his efforts, urging his own sled on with his legs. He was exhausted. As each kilometre passed, Hanne chanced to look back over her shoulder. The light behind her grew fainter and fainter. It was still bobbing up and down. Champions don’t give up easily.


Hanne Lyrek at 19 years old crossed the finish line 1st in the town of Alta at 04:45 in the morning. She became the youngest Finnmark winner, and also the Norwegian champion title in long-distance dog sledding. An exhausted Harald Tunheim finished in 2nd place, not long behind. Hanne Lyrek was, and still is, Norway’s sweetheart. It is an inspirational story of a great victory. A story of persistence and endurance and a test of character. If at first you don’t succeed – try again.


Last year a little bloke I know, who attends our College, had to cope with defeat. He was devastated when the rest of his class graduated to LEVEL 1 in Roller Blading. He didn’t. It was a bad day. His certificate read “PROFICIENT” but proficient was what he received the year before – tears, anguish. Can anyone see a God-given opportunity for parents in this moment? It is a turning point.


Bad Option: Parent Anger – frustration – yelling – agree with the pouting child, “This stinks – let’s quit Roller Blading – they can all go to Blazes” – Storm out with a Death Glare at incompetent organisers.
Good Option: “Let’s work hard and try again next year. I am proud that you kept trying even though you kept falling over. LEVEL 1 is not a hand out at this place – it really means something. Keep trying – I am more proud of your effort than of the result. (By the way: this also works for “I’m pleased that you admitted that you did the wrong thing; proud that you said sorry; happy you kept studying,” etc).

Happy ending – this year our Wollondillian graduated with LEVEL 1 despite a reluctance to go Roller Blading again – well done Mum – gentle insistence – tough love.

OK, it’s not quite on the scale of the Finnmarksløpet but the principles are universal. Hanne Lyrek probably fell off her skates too when she was 6 years old. I imagine that her Mum was the type to even find a God-given opportunity in that moment. And I have no doubt that Hanne is a better person for it.

… Try, Try Again.