Bar News - March 18, 2015
Practitioner Profile: Skijoring Lawyer Prefers Rural Life
By: Carol Robidoux
McGrath and Colter in Fairbanks, Alaska.
The Cooper Cargill Chant ski team. From left: Leslie Leonard, Charles Greenhalgh, Tyler Ray, Samantha McGrath (missing Christopher Meier and Dennis Morgan).
Being able to practice law in rural New Hampshire means everything to Samantha McGrath. Just beyond the North Conway law office of Cooper Cargill Chant, where McGrath has been specializing in real estate law since last June, are the wide open spaces where she can pursue her lifelong passion – skijoring with the family’s sled dogs.
“Technically, they’re my mom’s dogs, but I call them mine – I grew up with them. As soon as I have a schedule where I can have dogs of my own, I will,” says McGrath.
Anyway, she prefers training, “the fun part” of owning sled dogs, and leaves the racing to her mom, Kelley McGrath. In the winter, that includes skijoring – a Scandinavian term for when a skier is pulled by dogs. In the off-season, it means bikejoring – or swimming and running with your dogs to maintain stamina.
“Over the weekend we went out skijoring for a quick three-mile trip. I just love it, and so do the dogs – it’s what they’re bred to do. When the rest of the world looks outside and says, ‘Oh no, it’s snowing again,’ for us it’s, ‘Yay! It’s snowing again!’ We love to be out there, especially in the light fluffy snow we’ve been having this winter,” says McGrath.
She’s the first attorney in her family, and says she isn’t really sure when her interest in law developed.
“I was going through some old books and papers I’d held onto recently, and found an eighth-grade paper I’d written, about what I wanted to do in the future,” says McGrath. “Apparently, I said I wanted to be lawyer – I don’t remember writing the paper, but I do remember watching a lot of ‘Matlock’ reruns back then, and really liking Andy Griffith.”
In the same way, the family’s interest in dogsled racing is also an anomaly.
“We didn’t get our first dog until I was 8, a black lab. My mom had seen something about the Iditarod and it sort of inspired her to see if we could train Sawyer to race – and he actually did pretty well for a black lab. That’s how it started. Mom eventually decided to get some chinooks, which are a special sled dog breed that originated right here in Wonalancet,” says McGrath, referring to the tiny town tucked on the edge of Tamworth, where her mom eventually moved while McGrath was still in high school.
She recalls that spring break during her third year of law school at George Washington University coincided with the 2013 International Federation of Sleddog Sports World Championships, held at the North Pole. Her mom was going to be racing.
“I really wanted to go, but it would have meant missing a few classes. A few of my professors encouraged me to go, and told me not to worry about the classes, since it was such a great opportunity. So I flew up to Canada where my mom picked me up, and we drove the Alaska/Canada highway to the North Pole,” says McGrath.
Two of her mom’s three chinooks – Colter and Indie – clocked in as two of the fastest in the world, coming in fourth with the fastest US times in the 2013 IFSS World Championships.
Unlike the Alaskan Iditarod, which is a unique challenge spanning more than 1,000 miles, start to finish, the joy of sprint racing is more common in New Hampshire, where the World Championship Sled Dog Derby is hosted annually in Laconia.
One myth of sled dog racing is that you have to have a huge team, like Iditarod racers, says McGrath.
“There’s a pretty big push right now toward the smaller teams, of two to five dogs, among sled dog racers, so that the dogs are more like pets than race dogs,” says McGrath.
An avid snowboarder and skier, McGrath, 30, says her interest in recreating isn’t exclusive to ski buddies with four legs.
“Working in a North Country law office – there are 10 of us – means all of us ski in one fashion or another. So six of us formed a ski team and every Wednesday we go to Cranmore to do runs,” says McGrath. “Instead of lunch breaks, we ski.”
Since Cranmore is only five minutes from the office, often they start the day on the slopes, while the powder is still fresh.
Are they competitive?
“Our times do get published in the local newspaper, which can be a little embarrassing, but we really just do it for fun – and we always hope we can improve our times a little,” says McGrath.
McGrath was fortunate to travel extensively during her law school days – from a special program at Oxford University, to internships in Poland and Ghana, and a stint as a pro bono volunteer in New Orleans, post-Katrina.
But there’s no place like home for McGrath, who is aware of what seems like a growing trend among her generation of attorneys, opting for a balance of work and rural lifestyle over big city and high profile.
She only briefly considered staying in Washington, DC, after graduation.
“It’s a cool city. But I really didn’t want to go for another jog around the Mall. I wanted to hike and ski. Once I returned to New Hampshire to study for the bar, I knew I never wanted to leave,” McGrath says.