Dog team shows South Routt students what Iditarod is all about | SteamboatToday.com

Dog team shows South Routt students what Iditarod is all about





A team of dogs mostly composed of Iditarod finishers rounds a corner on a snowy field next to South Routt Elementary School on Wednesday. Tami Thurston offered rides to students, helping cap off lessons they'd been learning about the dogs and the race.
Joel Reichenberger

— They tugged, ran, fought and pulled, with every attempt to break from their orderly line squelched by a stern word or look from the person in charge. All that and the dogs from Double T Kennels almost made as much of a commotion as the South Routt Elementary School students, who took a little time from their school day Wednesday to ride behind a team filled mostly with Iditarod finishers.

"It's fun to share it. People love dogs, and they love the Iditarod," Tami Thurston said. "People have a passion for this just like we do, and it's fun to go out and share it."

On Wednesday, the team of eight dogs, seven of which have had a paw in tugging Oak Creek-based musher Tom Thurston across the Alaska interior, didn't tackle a task nearly as formidable as their stints at the massive Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. By comparison, the laps around a snow-covered field next to the elementary school seemed positively easy. It still made for a ton of fun for the students, who wrapped up several days on interactions with the local kennel's teams during the ride.

The Thurstons visited the school Tuesday, when Tom Thurston answered questions from the students about the race he's dedicated much of the past four years to. Tami Thurston, meanwhile, showed off one of the family's most experienced dogs and helped the students learn about sled dogs and the race.

"The kids had a million questions," she said. "Getting the kids out for the ride then is the final hurrah."

Many of the classes in the school plan to keep tabs on Tom Thurston's progress in this year's race. Thurston flew Tuesday to Montana, where he's spent much of the winter training his team. That was the first step on his return to Alaska, where he will start his fourth run in the Iditarod on March 3.

This year's race is expected to be yet another step for Thurston, who slowly has built up a team of veterans since his first trip in 2009. He secured a three-year sponsorship deal before last season's race, which ensured he'd race until at least 2013.

Last year's run was all about seasoning the dogs. This year, he hopes to train them not only to run the trail but also to run it fast.

"I'm hoping to get into the top 20," Tom Thurston said. "The team is looking great. They all have good weight on them. The ones I'm bringing have stayed healthy all year, and they've been performing awesome. I'm really optimistic."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com