Ezzi family have got sled racing licked

IT’S 5am on a Saturday morning. As many of us look forward to a lie-in, the Ezzi family have already sprung into action and are preparing for the day ahead.

By that time they are already leaving their Armadale home and making the 70-mile journey to Ae Forest, just outside Dumfries, where they will spend their day racing on the cycle paths.

But the Ezzis aren’t your typical family out for a day of mountain biking along the forest trails.

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Their preferred mode of transport is in fact a little more left field – a sled pulled by their pet dogs.

Father and son duo David and Marco have dedicated their lives to their sport, and are backed by the rest of the family – mum Louise and siblings Lucy, eight, and Aiden, 14 – who all bundle into the car every weekend to join them for a day of training at the forest.

Dog sledding isn’t just a pastime for the Ezzis, it’s a way of life.

Despite being just nine years old, Marco is already at the top of his game, having taken up the sport just a year ago.

Last year, he won the junior section of the country’s biggest dog sled racing competition – the Siberian Husky Club of Great Britain’s Aviemore Sled Dog Rally – which attracts thousands of dogs and more than 200 teams.

Marco, a pupil at St Anthony’s Primary School in Armadale, is gearing up for this year’s contest in a bid to retain his title, and will also compete in a further five races before the official season comes to an end in March.

“It’s the biggest race in the calendar and Marco won it last time,” says 34-year-old David.

“We also have the national championships in Dundee, which Marco also won last year.

“He had the clean sweep last year and won every single race he was in.

“The races are quite close together because once it starts to get too warm you can’t run with the dogs.

“It would be like trying to run a marathon in 100 degrees.”

But David and Marco have one slight problem which might limit their success in this year’s events – the prospect of snow.

They currently only own a three-wheeled sled, which is no use in the snow, so are desperately trying to raise enough funds to buy a new sled designed for wintry conditions.

At £1500 it’s not an easy challenge.

They have recently received a £100 donation from courier firm Eagle Couriers for the new sled and are already sponsored by David’s employer, Robert Wiseman Dairies.

They are now hoping to drum up interest from other local businesses and sponsors in a bid to raise the required amount.

“It’s not easy trying to raise the money with three kids and Christmas just out of the way,” David explains.

“But at the end of the day, if it snows, we’re snookered because we have no sled.

“We are the only sled dog team in the world that’s praying for no snow.

“You just can’t tell up there in Aviemore, it’s got its own weather system.

“It’s just hit or miss, but this is what we’ve trained for all year.”

David has been dedicated to the unusual sport for almost five years now after buying his first Alaskan Malamute, Sesi, in 2007. “It wasn’t the sport itself which attracted us to it, it was the the dog,” explains David. “I was always interested in the breed because they are absolutely beautiful. The dogs are great pets but you have to be working them to get the best out of them.”

Since then, David has bought another two Alaskan Malamutes – Shadow and Mia – and has also bought Marco his own dog, Buck. But at £950 a pop, they do not come cheap – and they don’t come without responsibility.

The daily routine at the Ezzi household is enough to make even the biggest pet lover think twice.

On returning home from his night shift at the Wiseman Dairies factory in Whitburn, David forgoes collapsing straight into his bed so he can see to the dogs.

He feeds and waters them then embarks on their morning one-mile walk – but he has to take each dog separately as they are too powerful for him to walk together.

After briefly finding time for some sleep, David then gives them a top-up walk of half a mile each in the afternoon.

On a Wednesday night, he and Marco train with the dogs on a local cycle path before he goes back out to do his night shift, while every Saturday and Sunday is taken up with a full- day session at Ae Forest.

David readily admits that this way of life is all-consuming. The family doesn’t go on holiday abroad any more, with their visits to competitions in the north of Scotland taking over.

The cost of the upkeep of their dogs isn’t small either, with the four of them feasting on large quantities of raw meat, such as chicken carcasses and bones throughout the racing season, which runs from September to March.

Sometimes the responsibility can get too much, but he just reminds himself of the bigger picture and his love of the sport.

“There’s some days you say to yourself I can’t be bothered taking the dogs out today, but you have to do it”, he says.

“Once you’re out there in the forest it’s all worth it and it’s a different class. It’s just the pure adrenaline rush of being hooked on to the dogs. It’s so rewarding it’s unbelievable. When your dogs are doing well, there’s nothing better.”