LINCOLN – The annual Race to the Sky sled dog race starts Saturday in Lincoln, but before mushers head out on the trail, there’s lots of preparations to be done.
By the end of this weekend, veterinarians will have examined well over 200 dogs to make sure they’re in top shape for the long journey ahead. The vets check the dogs’ breathing, legs and even their teeth looking for anything that might impact performance on the trail.
“[We] try to see if there’s any things that might pop up on the race that might make them run slower or challenge the musher or the rest of the team” Kristina Kiefer, race veterinarian, said.
In all, three veterinarians and three technicians are needed to examine the dogs for the 21 teams competing this year. For each team, there are 12 dogs.
It’s a lot of work, but its what helps allow mushers like Rick Katucki to continue to do what they love.
Saturday will be Katucki’s first time trying the Race to the Sky in his 20 years of competing.
“It’s been going on a long time and has a good reputation,” Katucki said. “Got a good bunch of mushers here so I’m thinking it’s going to be good.”
Race Secretary Pam Beckstrom has be working for the race ever since it started 33 years ago.
“It started out as a 500 mile race and it was the first one basically in the West,” Beckstrom said.
Now, it’s a 300 mile race and Beckstrom said the trail is very good. Regardless of how long it is, Beckstrom gets excited for the race every year.
“It’s just that excitement, that enthusiasm that the dogs have and the teams coming together. For some mushers, this is their Iditarod. They’re never going to run the Iditarod but this is their Iditarod.”
Sometimes, it’s harder to tell who’s more excited – the mushers or the dogs.
“If you watch the dogs they are so happy and so excited. The mushers have a hard time containing them and waiting for their start time. It’s a lot of fun to see that joy and excitement to do this,” Kiefer said.