Moments with Mushers: Qualities and Characteristics


Living in Ohio, and being an Ohio State alum, each year I look forward to the start of the college football season. After the delayed start this year, I was excited to have this sense of “normalcy” return a couple weeks ago with the return of Big 10 football. Just like the mushers of Iditarod, you always have the reliable contenders, and fan favorites but love those lesser known athletes and teams that make their runs up the leaderboards. 

This got me thinking about what it takes to remain at the top, and the characteristics of those top athletes. Of course some have a natural ability, but many have a great dedication to their sport, train year-round, trust their teammates, show perseverance, and determination. All of these qualities can also be found amongst the members of the mushing community, but which characteristic is MOST important? This was the question I posed to some of them. 

Here are their responses. 


As told by Anna Berington:

“I think an important quality is patience. We have to be patient with teaching young dogs. We raise puppies and watch them develop and learn. We invest so much time with them before we can race them at about 2 years old. We have to be patient with the progression. It’s an amazing journey.”

Berington massaging her dog Photo Credit: Terrie Hanke

As told by Jeff Deeter:

“I believe one of the most important characteristics and qualities for a musher to possess is patience. The lifestyle of raising and racing dogs involves a lot of “ups and downs,” and there will be points that really test your fortitude. It is important in these times to not be reactionary, and remember that our race is long and our dogs will be racing with us for many years.”

Here’s an Insider clip of Jeff talking about this!

Mike Ellis connecting with Frankie Photo Credit: Terrie Hanke

As told to me by Dan Seavey:

I don’t know, that is a good question, it really gets me thinking! I would have to say that they have to have a love and respect for animals, and dogs in particular. But not just as a group, you really have to get to know them as individuals and form that relationship with them. I like to train leaders, and it’s really important to get to know your dogs to see if they have what it takes to become a good leader. We [the Seavey family] have gone through 22 generations of dogs now and it’s really important to get to know them so that you can know what to expect from them.

Cindy Abbott Photo Credit: Terrie Hanke

Teachers: There are many great picture books available to use as class read-alouds. Use one of these books to discuss character traits found in those stories. See if there are any that can be found that are similar to the ones suggested by the mushers above!

Here are some of the picture books about mushing and the Iditarod that I like to use in my classroom:


Books about mushing:

Akiak – by Robert J. Blake

Painter and Ugly – by Robert J. Blake

Togo – by Robert J. Blake

Big Enough Anna – by Pam Flowers

Douggie – by Pam Flowers

Dogteam – by Gary Paulsen

Stone Fox – by John Reynolds Gardner

Balto and the Great Race – by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel


Iditarod Books:

Alaska’s Dog Heroes – by Shelley Gill

Kiana’s Iditarod – by Shelley Gill

Storm Run – by Libby Riddles

Granite – by Susan Butcher

Iditarod Dream – by Ted Wood