Students at Waupaca Learning Center experienced a bit of the flavor of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race last week when sled dogs visited the school.
“It’s a real treat to come here. I’m so impressed with these kids. They know the parts of the sled, some commands for the dogs and checkpoints,” said Beth Castaldi, who brought five of her 29 sled dogs to the school on Thursday, March 7.
She was joined by her husband Ken and by Kim Schoenrock and Donna Koeppe in making the visit.
They are all members of the Wisconsin Trailblazers Sled Dog Club.
The four of them – and their dogs – spent the school day at WLC, teaching the students about sled dog racing in Wisconsin, and, of course, giving students the opportunity to see their dogs up close.
The school’s students and staff are following this year’s Iditarod closely, because Linda Fenton, a third-grade teacher at WLC, is this year’s Iditarod Teacher on the Trail.
Each classroom door in the school is a checkpoint in the race, and the classes, as well as the office staff, are following the mushers they chose.
The annual sled dog race from Anchorage to Nome covers 1,049 miles.
It began on March 3, and it will take most participants between nine and 15 days to finish the course.
Fenton is flying from checkpoint to checkpoint, blogging and posting photos and video over the Internet, sharing her observations with students and teachers in classrooms around the world.
For 12 years, Fenton has used the race as a teaching tool for her students.
Go to http://itcteacheronthetrail.com/ to follow her blog.
With the race in full swing last week, teachers wanted someone to visit WLC and tell the students about the dogs and racing.
Members of the Wisconsin Trailblazers Sled Dog Club were happy to do so.
“We go to different schools and give presentations,” said Schoenrock, who lives in Elcho, north of Antigo. She has eight dogs.
She brought two Siberian Huskies, including 5-year-old Otso, who has one brown eye and one blue eye.
“In the past, my son raced. Now, I share my dogs with other junior mushers, because it’s really a struggle to get kids involved,” Schoenrock said. “I just started, because my son said one day that he wanted a dog. It grew from there. It’s infectious. Once you have one or two, you have to get more.”
Her son, Brad, raced for 12 years.
Koeppe, of Oconto Falls, brought two of her 11 dogs to WLC.
Members of the Wisconsin Trailblazers Sled Dog Club do sprint racing.
“What we do in Wisconsin,” Castaldi said, “are shorter, much faster races. Whereas, the Iditarod is a long race.”
A two-dog team typically does a two-heat race, she said, with each heat about 12 to 15 miles in length.
“I think my very first race was in 1975,” she said.
At that time, Castaldi lived in Pennsylvania.
“I was introduced to people who had nine Huskies,” she said. “I was absolutely hooked. I was fortunate. At that time, there was a very active club in Pennsylvania. I had a very qualified musher as my mentor.”
Castaldi said one thing they all love about the sport are the dogs
“But the thing also is I don’t think you will find a sport anywhere where the competitors are more supportive of each other,” she said.
That includes helping another team to the start line and keeping everyone safe if there is a problem on a trail.
“One thing most people aren’t aware of is that kids from 6 and up can learn to be responsible dog trainers and handlers,” Castaldi said. “The bond between a kid and a dog is phenemonal, and people don’t recognize that you can participate in the sport with one dog.”
Dry land sled dog races are an option in the spring or fall.
“In place of a sled, you use a bike or scooter or three-wheel cart,” she said. “Again, you can do it with one or two dogs.”
Visit the club’s website at http://www.witrailblazers.org/ to learn about the club and the sport.
Castaldi has had the opportunity to go to the Iditarod. She never competed in it.
She said the staff of Waupaca Learning Center did an excellent job teaching the students about the race.
“It’s really exciting to have a Wisconsin teacher there, to know students everywhere use the Iditarod as a teaching tool,” Castaldi said. “To see what they’ve done, the educational information out there. It’s phenomenal.”