NSU Middle Lab School teacher, Laurie Berry, teamed up again this year with Go North Adventure Learning, found at polarhusky.com and based in Willow, Alaska, to experience first-hand the excitement of the Start of the Iditarod, the longest arctic dog sled race in the world. While there, she had the opportunity to interview sled dog racers, known as mushers, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, Aliy Zirkle, and Jeff King.
In an interview with Norwegian musher Joar Ulsom, who holds the record as fastest rookie to have ever run the Iditarod and one of only two mushers to be in the top 7 five times in five years, he answers student questions about what it’s like out on the trail.
NSU Middle Lab School eighth grader, Koda DeBlieux asks, “What does the Iditarod mean to you and does this particular race have any special impact on you?” Joar’s answer: “It’s been a childhood dream to run this race. There’s a lot of history behind it. We’ve had a Norwegian champion, so there’s a lot of history in it for me and a lot of pride for running it.” And then he speaks the kids’ language when he finishes with, “It’s the longest race there is, so that’s super cool.”
Eighth grader Dalyn Davis wants to know, “How do you pick your lead dog?” Joar replys, “They kind of pick it themselves. If I see a dog that wants to be up there in lead and learns the commands fast, he’s in tune with me and he wants to do the right thing, then it’s very easy.”
Ann Marie Nelson, also an eighth grader, asks, ” How many hours a day do you train with your dogs and is that year-round?” Joar’s answer: “It’s pretty much year-round. We normally give [the dogs] the hottest part of the summer off, but by August first we start up full time again with training. Then we get them back in shape and run for about an hour. Before the race we are up to about eight, nine, ten hours a day. Sometimes we go for three or four days straight and stop three or four hours at a time and then go another six or seven hours. We put on a lot of miles trying to simulate the race. So, it’s not much sleep and a lot of training.”
While at the Downtown Anchorage Ceremonial Start March 3, Berry also ran into musher Aliy Zirkle, who began racing the Iditorod in 2001 and has raced and finished every year since then. She asked Aliy to tell the kids watching back in Louisiana a little something about the race. Aliy’s responded, “Well, we’re here at the start. It’s not snowing right now, but we hear there are blizzards out to the west. I think the weather should be pretty good by the time we get there. So it’s 3-2-1 we’re outta here. Let’s go!”
At the Restart in Willow, Alaska where the race officially began on March 4, Berry caught up with musher and four-time Iditarod winner, Jeff King, to find out what new innovation he is implementing this year as a strategy to win the race. His response: “[This year] my sled has exceptionally wide runners, almost twice as wide as anything you’ll see here. This year’s soft snow, I think, will make this innovation be the time to try it. I’ve thought about it for a lot of years and I’m hoping that the floatation of the wide runner will make it easier for my dogs to pull the sled.”
You can follow the race at Iditarod.com and download full video interviews and teaching materials at https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Literary-Wanderings.