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Iditarod Challenge

The Iditarod is a dog-sledding race that takes place every year. It begins on the first Saturday of March. This year it will begin on March 3, 2012 and end on March 12, 2012, marking the thirty-fifth year since the Iditarod first began. The Iditarod is a ten day race known throughout the world, and dog-sledders now compete in it as a sport. One small fact you might not have known about the Iditarod is that it did not begin as a sport. It began as a way to save children's lives in Nome, Alaska.

History of the Iditarod

In 1925, the children of Nome, Alaska were suffering from diphtheria. Diphtheria is a very contagious, deadly disease, which has become very rare because of modern medicine. Back in the 1920s, the Inuits who lived in northern Alaska, were not vaccinated and became very susceptible to diphtheria. The only way to save the children was to get a serum from Nenana, Alaska. A team of sled dogs, led by the famous Balto, retrieved the medicine for the children. It was, “relayed...674 miles in 27.5 hours!.” (Alaskanet.com)

Joe Redington Sr. and Dorothy Page were the co-founders behind the Iditarod. In the 1960s, they formed a race to commemorate sled dogs and how dog sledding was the prior means of transportation before modern means of transportation. In 1973, the race was moved to the Iditarod trail (from Anchorage, Alaska to Nome, Alaska) to honor the memory of the run that saved the lives of many children in 1925. Thirty-four teams participated in the Iditarod of 1973, but only twenty-two teams made it safely across the finish line. It wasn't until the early 1990s that an official ceremony was introduced, the same that is now used every year.

Training for the Big Race

It takes a lot of preparation to get ready for the Iditarod. Before being able to even sign up for the race, the musher has to have competed in, and won, smaller dog-sledding races. These races aren't as long as the Iditarod, but do take some skill to complete. Winning any of the smaller dog-sledding races proves that a team has what it takes to get through the big race-- the Iditarod.

Both the mushers and dogs must train for many months, and even years, before they are ready for the Iditarod. Participants in the race must prepare themselves both mentally and physically, if they hope to have a chance at winning (or even finishing) the Iditarod. To get ready for the Iditarod, many racers try to imagine different situations and obstacles they might face, and think of ways to solve problems that may come up. One such example of a problem that might occur would be a dog becoming injured during the race. What might you do if one of the dogs on your team got injured while you were in the race?

Another thing a participant must think of in advance is how much food to bring, and what clothing to bring along. Warm clothing, non-perishable food, water, dog food, and a medical kit are key items. A participant wants to pack all the necessities, but also doesn't want to make the sled too heavy for the dogs to pull. It takes both practice and experience to know how to pack for the Iditarod.

It is also a good practice for the mushers to be in shape, although physical preparedness is more necessary for the dogs, as they are the ones pulling the sled. Sled dogs go through lots of training in the off-season, to keep in shape. They must do this to be ready for the race ahead. In warmer months, when there isn't enough snow to effectively pull a regular dog sled, they might pull sleds with wheels, as a training exercise. What other training and exercises do you think sled dogs must go through?

The Real Champions

When it comes to the Iditarod, it's the dogs who are the real champions. So, let's learn a bit more about them! The two most popular breeds that are used in dog sledding are Alaskan malamutes and huskies. These two breeds are most commonly used because their bodies can handle the cold climate better than most other dogs. Their bodies can also tolerate the long distance of running that is necessary for the Iditarod. In the off-season (during the non-winter months), the dogs keep up their stamina and strength by pulling sleds and crates. A dog may run a couple thousand miles in preparation for the long-distance runs of the Iditarod.

Originally, sled dogs were chosen by owners, based mostly on their strength and endurance. Today, sled dogs are mostly mixed-breeds who have been bred especially for racing. They are fast, have feet that can endure the long runs through cold, snowy terrain, and they tend to work well in teams.

Not just any dog can be a part of the race. To race in the Iditarod, the dogs on each team must have previously worked and trained together. Puppies are brought to the race to learn from the adult dogs. The puppies copy and mimic what the older dogs do-- this is a great way to teach and train sled dogs.

Iditarod News

Ever since the first Iditarod race that took place in 1973, people have been mesmerized by the dog-sledding sport. Many people flock to the actual event. Many others who are unable to travel to the event read Iditarod news avidly. Biographies of teams who enter into the contest, up-to-date news of teams during the race, and results of the event are just a few of the broadcasts covered by the news.

Experience It For Yourself

For fans of the Iditarod, there is nothing better than attending the event, but sometimes it isn't always possible to make it. Not to be discouraged, there are numerous other dog sled races held throughout North America. Some of the races may not be as popular as the Iditarod, but they can be every bit as enjoyable. Depending upon the race, it may not be so expensive to attend, and perhaps it can be made into a family event! Below is a list of other popular dog sled races in North America.

If it is not feasible to attend one of the popular sled dog races, there are also groups that offer dog sled rides, so you can experience the thrill yourself.

Another way to feel like you're at the big dog-sled race is by looking at pictures and videos of the Iditarod, or even by creating your own dog-sled-themed crafts!

Related Literature

Books about the Iditarod, or dog-sledding in general, can teach readers many valuable lessons. Perseverance and patience are lessons learned while reading about the trials of dog-sledding. Aside from these virtues, books about dog sledding can also teach someone how to properly mush, as well as how to train a sled dog. These books can also open your eyes to the harsh weather conditions and terrain of Alaska. There are many things to learn from books about dog-sledding, and they can be quite interesting too. Here are a few books that might interest you:

Dog Sledding Computer Games and Trivia

A fun way to become acquainted with the Iditarod is to play dog-sled-themed games and trivia. Not only are games fun to play, but they can also be educational, too. Trivia provides a fun way of learning interesting facts that you might never have known before. Here are some games and trivia to get you in the Iditarod spirit.

There is much to learn about the Iditarod. With a history of saving children's lives in Nome, Alaska, the Iditarod is a world-known dog-sledding race. It is a wonderful experience to attend a dog-sledding race, but if that is not possible, there are plenty of resources that can be just as fun: games, trivia, books and videos. It is an adventure for all ages.