Sibling rivalry seals family bond

Last modified: 2/13/2012 12:00:00 AM
Sometimes, they fight over pillows. Other times, it's a turf war, for the best spot on the couch. Or maybe the TV remote is up for grabs, or a quarter both spotted on the ground, at the same time.

This weekend, Litchfield's Donahue brothers, 12-year-old Shane and Connor, 10, jockeyed for position on their snowmobiles during regional competition in Boscawen, off Route 4 near the Hannah Duston Memorial.

Call it a rivalry. A sibling rivalry, with mom, Darcy, and dad, Shawn, acting as referees.

"One day we told them to go outside and fight it out," said Darcy, a nurse. "They just stood there looking at

each other, like they didn't know what to do next. They argue, but they're good friends."

Their competitive forum this time was created by snow guns, which built an oval course in a cornfield with thick mud, stretching as far as the eye could see.

The event, called the Banks Chevrolet New England Sledfest, was hosted by the Town Line Trail Dusters snowmobile club and sanctioned by East Coast Snow Cross, based out of Cheshire, Conn.

The governing body oversees professional and amateur racing in New York, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire, coordinating a winter circuit that bounces families from hotel to hotel.

Like a scene from a NASCAR track, trailers and trucks parked near the Route 4 bridge as cars pulled onto the shoulder to see what all the fuss was about.

They saw hundreds of people surrounding a track. They saw snowmobiles spitting back snow at the sound of a starter's gun. And they saw controlled chaos as sleds circled the course, fighting for money or pride.

During a break this weekend, the boys sat in their trailer, wearing mud like a badge of honor. They spoke about the sport they love, and the competitive juices that so often help nurture a bond between siblings. They both began riding at age 3.

Shane, as the older brother, started riding first. He was hooked, right away.

"That very first day I began, I was all over it," Shane said. "I loved it and started up instantly and wanted to keep going."

Nervous?

"Nope," Shane said. "I just wanted to go as fast as I could go on it."

Two years later, Connor climbed aboard. He took a little longer to get the feel.

"I didn't like it when I first started," Connor said. "I thought my 120 (cubic centimeter engine) was scary. But I started to like it when my brother went faster. I wanted to go faster than him."

And the rivalry was born.

Both brothers began competitive racing at age 5, meaning they've been going against each other for five years. At first, Connor had some catching up to do.

"He was faster than me, and when he started going faster, I started going faster," Connor said. "I was always a few steps behind him up until a few years ago, when I was 8 or 9 years old."

Even before then, the Donahues adopted the sport, making it a vital part of the family's identity. Darcy and Shawn centered their vacations around the activity, creating a bond and a sense of adventure that evolved into a common denominator.

"It's a great way to keep family together," Darcy said. "We do a lot of traveling together. We rely on each other. Each of us has our own role in this that we do. We really are a team together. It helps us spend a lot of quality time together."

It's a lifestyle, really. Sponsorship is needed to pay for protective equipment, like neck braces and goggles and boots. The boys sign the contracts themselves, learning what it means to represent a company with dignity. They must maintain good grades at Litchfield Middle School to compete on the tour.

And compete they do.

"The rivalry is just something that happens," Shane said. "It happens when he wants something that I have, and some things I want that he has. We kind of wrestle over it."

"Whoever wins," Connor added, "the other person gets to brag."

They fought for bragging rights this weekend, during the fourth event in a nine-race season. The Donahues don't attend every race, but this one was staged close to home.

The boys raced in two heats before competing in the final. They bobbed up and down on the straightway, moving like dolphins arching in and out of water. They soared as high as 8 feet off the ground.

On this day, Shane finished sixth in one of their two finals, while Connor bit his lip on a landing, then accidentally hit the kill switch and stalled. He placed eighth.

So, who's better?

"Equal," Connor said.

"Yeah, equal," added Shane.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com.)




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