JUNIOR RACING AT THE ITEN KENNEL
 

When you grow up in a sled dog family by the time you are old enough to race you have already spent years of your life on the runners.

Kate and Quinn were raised on a dog team. As babies they traveled amaq, the Inupiaq word for a way to carry a baby tucked beneath the parka piggy back style on mom’s back. The one room cabin they lived in was three miles up the Ambler River from town. About twice a week mom hooked up a three dog team, put the baby on her back, and went to town to visit and check mail.

After Quinn was born Kate got dislodged from the warmth of the parka to the inside of the dog sled. She wore a warm mouton (sheepskin) parka, a fluffy red fox fur hat, rabbit fur mitts, warm snow pants and sleek caribou mukluks to keep her warm. Then she was stuffed inside a sleeping bag inside the sled.

When Kate and Quinn were grown to four and six years old they took turns driving their own one dog team behind mom’s sled. Chuck Schaeffer built Kate a tiny, kid sized dog sled designed to be pulled by one or two dogs.

Quinn doesn’t remember his first time dragging behind the sled but he’s heard the story often enough to recall it. He was following mom and Kate on the tundra with the little sled pulled by two dogs. He tipped over but didn’t let go. When mom finally turned around to check on him she saw a snow covered kid hanging on to the sled with one arm while the dogs ran to keep up with her team. She stopped her team and went back to help Quinn get up. He proudly announced, “I didn’t let go.”

Loosing your team is a bad dream for all dog mushers. It’s especially hard to hang on to teams during a sprint race because the sled is so small and light. In Kotzebue all of the junior races are sprint races. The twelve – eighteen year old racers get behind small light sleds and speed around an eleven mile course which is often icy and bumpy. The trick is hanging on.

Despite Kate’s years of experience driving teams behind her mom she was unprepared for the fast icy sprint race trail. During her first year in the junior circuit she lost her team at least twice. One time Clarissa Coffin, a fellow racer, gave Kate a ride on her sled to help her catch the team. This cost Clarissa valuable time and probably a first place finish.

It is with this spirit of camaraderie that the junior race is run. Don’t take me wrong, the junior racers are highly competitive but they are also out to have fun and enjoy the sport together. I think they get this outlook toward racing in part from the race judges. Amos Foster, Syrus Harris, Herbert Foster, these are the men who are out on the ice for every junior race. After each race one of these men will walk up to each kid with an encouraging word, “you did a great job – work hard this year, next year you’ll win.”

 

 

Katie on the trail.
 
 
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Banner photo by Jeff Schultz