Anyone who had had the pleasure of learning with Ms. Gilstad and Ms. Garner knows that springtime means it is time for the third grade to focus on the Iditarod. This year is no different!
The Iditarod is an annual long-distance dog sledding race that began in 1973. The trip from Anchorage to Nome in Alaska can take anywhere from eight to fifteen days to complete in full, with 26 checkpoints in between. Historically, our third graders pick a musher to track as they go through the famous Alaskan race in real-time, checking their times and dog count throughout the race. They also track particular mile markers and awards their musher can receive throughout the race.
This year they are still tracking the mushers, although some students have to pick up additional mushers because of complications. Some “scratch”, or voluntarily leave, because of serious injuries. Musher Aliy Zirkle had to be airlifted out via helicopter after she suffered a serious concussion. Others have had to be removed from the competition, like Gunnar Johnson, because they tested positive for COVID. “The kids really get attached to their assigned person. They care if they get injured or don’t get to finish the race. It’s the sweetest thing,” said Ms. Gilstad.
“I actually met my musher before!” shared Andrew C. ’30. “My family met him two years ago, and I was so excited I pulled him out of the hat as my musher!” Andrew and his friends also like to discuss “strategies” for their mushers - when they should rest or run to stay ahead of their competitors. “You don’t want to hang in the back of the pack,” believes Noah A. ’30, “because then you never ever catch up!”
The third graders also love monitoring the health of the dogs involved in the race. Per protocol, each musher must start with 16 or fewer dogs, but finish the competition with at least 5 dogs; many dogs cannot race the entire competition. Tyler B. ’30 loves that the Iditarod website they use has a section dedicated to the dogs and their health. “If the dogs get sick or injured, they have veterinarians at each checkpoint to take care of them. And they also have these huge trucks that are like mobile hospitals just for the dogs to enjoy!”
They also get the chance to write and draw letters for the mushers to carry on their sleds as part of the Educational Mail Trail (the route traditionally serves the additional purpose of a mail route). Once the competition is complete, the musher who kept the letter will sign it, and it will receive official stamps of approval from Nome if the musher finishes the race. Ms. Garner and Ms. Gilstad both bring out previous years’ letters to inspire the students.
With much of the race to go, our third graders will continue the fun next week by building mini dog-sleds of their own. “I’m so glad this has become a Canterbury tradition,” said Ms. Garner. “We love teaching it!”