Jr. Iditarod: Final Preparations

Today I drove out to Iditarod Headquarters to visit during the vet checks for the Jr. Iditarod and then later, attended the Jr. Iditarod musher pre-race meeting. The Jr. Iditarod is a sled dog race for 14-17 year old students. They run an out-and-back course of 150 miles with ten dogs.  At the halfway point at Yentna Station, the tradition is to build a bonfire and enjoy time together before finishing the race.  This year, there are more mushers than ever signed up! Twenty-one teens drew numbers out of a hat to determine their bib number and starting order.  They also received tags for their dogs as well as a bag of gear, snacks, warm clothing, and two light-up dog collars for their lead dogs. (Check out the Light Up the Lead Dogs initiative on social media to learn more.)

What impressed me about these amazing students is that they are serious about mushing and racing sled dogs while maintaining school activities and other aspects of a busy life.  At the vet checks, the process was very simple, and there wasn’t much time to talk. But I did meet Bristol Huffman from Kotzebue, AK, Eva Robinson from North Dakota, and Makenna Vanderhoof from Wisconsin and Alaska. You can check out all the Jr. Iditarod musher bios here. Vet checks the day before the race is a normal part of the race preparation, and consists of a nose-to-tail exam and a heart check. 

A vet does a final check for a sled dog at Jr. Iditarod vet checks. Photo: K. Newmyer

At the pre-race meeting, families, board members and other adults streamed into the room, while the mushers gathered in the back.  Many hadn’t seen each other for a long time and greeted each other happily. You would not have known they were about to compete against one another. There was pizza to share, too. Julia Redington, President, got the meeting started with information about the race for mushers and their families. Emily Krol, race organizer, and veterinarian Margaret Bellows helped explain aspects of the race, and trail boss Richard Plack talked about what to expect with trail markers. He said he put up over 1200 markers on the 75-mile round trip trail! 

Jr. Iditarod musher Jack Dixon draws his bib number at the musher meeting. Photo: K. Newmyer

Finally, after drawing bib numbers and getting their photos taken by Jr. Iditarod photographer Whitney McClaren, it was time for the families to leave the room. The mushers gathered for a final conversation with race officials. With vet checks, trail marking, bib numbers, pizza, and a final conversation to mushers only, this marks the final preparations for a real rite of passage for the students that will begin at 10 am tomorrow.

What kinds of final preparations do you make for your students before a big event? Do you make sure they have wise words from you? Do you make sure that logistical needs are taken care of? Do you think about what students will do before and after the event? What kinds of rewards and incentives will you have? How will you communicate with the students? Will you give them some food to fuel them up? 

As teachers we need to set our students up to succeed at events they have prepared for, and that’s exactly what the Jr. Iditarod does. The Jr. Iditarod is a great model of how to ensure that students can be challenged, but not unduly, and succeed, but not too easily.  Because when the Jr. Iditarod mushers cross the finish line on Sunday, they will know not only that they have succeeded at something big, but that they have been supported and guided by the adult mentors and teachers in their lives.

How do you prepare your students for something big? Email me at emailtheteacher@iditarod.com.