The steady rainfall did little to damper the spirits of the contestants that participated in this year's Canine2 Iron Dog competition in Oak Forest on Sunday..
A multitude of breeds, from golden retrievers to small mixed-breed and rescue pups, traveled with their owners from local suburbs, including Orland Park, Homer Glen, Tinley Park, Lemont and Oak Forest, as well the surrounding states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana to meet the challenge.
Several participants who competed in last year's event returned again this year to tackle the 1.5-mile-long obstacle course with each canine team traversing through water, over hills and downed trees, and along wet, slippery trails through the wooded forest preserves.
After completing the hiking portion of the event, the teams faced further obstacles when they had to climb stairs, crawl under fences and jump hurdles before crossing the finish line.
The annual event at the Cook County Forest Preserve District's Camp Sullivan in Oak Forest was held a month earlier than usual. As in the past, however, funds raised for the challenge go to FOSCIK, a children's shelter in Kenya, said Palos Hills resident Willie "Sarge" McLaughlin, who is also the event coordinator.
"It's actually more of a challenge for the participants in rainy weather," McLaughlin said. "It really gives them something to talk about afterward."
But despite having to trudge through mud and slide down slippery slopes, everyone who entered made it to the finish line.
Dennis and Linda Chrapek of Orland Park entered their six-year-old golden retriever, Romaine, in the challenge. Dennis Chrapek, 60, ran the entire course before he came out on the other end soaking wet and covered with mud, but still smiling about crossing the finish line.
The competition is open to the public and welcomes contestants from obedience groups and police dogs as well as everyday dog lovers.
"It's a great opportunity for pet owners to change their daily routines and experience something fun and exciting," Lake in the Hills resident Malcolm Tallungan said.
Tallungan has been following and helping with the competition since the first event. "When it first began, there was only law enforcement personnel. As things got going, we found that the interest was so great, we expanded it to include laymen and their dogs as well," he said.
"This event is popular with the contestants because it's not about just winning a competition. It's about getting out there and having fun," Tallungan said.
Returning this year with her dog Dozer, a six-year-old black Labrador mix, was the event's youngest participant, Kelsey Czemske, now 18, and her father, Jeff Czemske, a Lemont firefighter who came along to cheer them on. Last year Kelsey and Dozer took a wrong turn, winning them the "Iron Turtle" award.
"They fared much better this year. They didn't win first place, but they didn't get the turtle award either," Jeff Czemske said. "We're already looking forward to next year."
Another returning canine team was Chuck Leystra from Randolph, Wis., with his miniature schnauzer, Linka, who, once again, qualified as the smallest dog to enter the event.
FOSCIK (Friends of Sheltered Children in Kenya) raises funds for an orphanage and school that is home to about 40 abandoned and destitute children. For additional information on the nonprofit group, contact McLaughlin at foscik.org, or email him at email@example.com.