When Darke County Center for the Arts presented musher Tasha Strielstra and her sled dog Rhu to local fourth- through sixth-graders last October, students were fascinated and excited by the show which, in addition to informing students about the inherent challenges and triumphs of sled dog racing, demonstrated that (1) teamwork is necessary to achieve personal success and (2) “Don’t let go” is an indispensable rule essential to moving forward in life as well as in sled racing.
In their unique and memorable fashion, Tasha and Rhu fulfilled DCCA’s goal for its Arts In Education programs by expanding imaginations, inspiring creativity, and teaching good citizenship.
Tasha and her husband, Ed, own and operate Nature’s Kennel, a sled dog farm in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, where they care for and train over 180 animals and operate a sledding adventures business. So when I came across an article from The Columbus Dispatch about a young Ohioan who trained at Nature’s Kennel and is a rookie participant in this year’s Iditarod, I was quite interested in the tale.
Twenty-year-old Newark, Ohio, resident Laura Neese has been in training with Tasha and Ed for the past three years, working at the farm and learning the strenuous routine necessary to become capable of participating in the grueling Iditarod. According to the Dispatch, Laura’s rigorous schedule includes waking daily at 4 a.m., feeding the dogs, racing one team for about 60 miles, grabbing some food for herself, taking out the next team for about 50 miles, feeding the dogs again, and then going to sleep around midnight only to wake up the next day and do it all again.
Laura’s industrious behavior has earned high praise from her mentors, who say that in their 25 years in the business of training aspiring mushers, the dedicated Ohioan is among the most gifted they’ve met. The young woman’s passion for the sport has been growing since she was just 9 years old when she followed her first Iditarod on her computer; last year she competed in the less famous but just as demanding Alaskan sled race Yukon Quest, finishing thirteenth in a field of 24 racers, earning praise from race organizers as a “rookie sensation.”
The Iditarod commemorates the most famous event in mushing history, the 1925 serum run that took life-saving diphtheria anti-toxin by dogsled from Anchorage to Nome, which was threatened by an epidemic of the dread disease; begun in 1973, the race follows parts of that historic trail. Following the ceremonial start in Anchorage on March 4, racers run along the shore of the Bering Sea, over hills and mountain passes, across rivers, through tundra and spruce forests. The temperature this year was the coldest ever recorded for the start of the Iditarod; lack of snow affected trail conditions, making it necessary to begin the actual race at Fairbanks, rather than Willow, the usual starting point. On the day this is being written, Laura is in 43rd place among the remaining 66 participants in the 2017 Iditarod. (You can follow her progress at www.iditarod.com.)
Iditarod – Last Great Race on Earth®
Official site for the world’s foremost sled race, the Iditarod Great Sled Race, with regular updates during the race, musher biographies, and educational links.
DCCA’s Arts In Education presentations affect audiences in diverse ways, sometimes offering students the impetus necessary to follow their dreams and achieve lofty goals. While participation in the Iditarod is not a usual or expected outcome to this program, that possibility apparently exists; learning about an Ohio native who is doing just that provides a mind-blowing new option for achievement through participation in the arts.
Marilyn Delk is a director of the Darke County Center for the Arts and can be reached at [email protected] Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.