Monday, February 11, 2013

Musher as coach: the symbiotic relationship between sled dogs and their person

"I don't believe in team motivation.
I believe in getting a team prepared so it knows
it will have the necessary confidence when it steps on a field
and be prepared to play a good game."
    -Tom Landry

I have a very young team this season. Out of the ten dogs in training, six are two-years-old or younger. It's been really gratifying watching them transform from puppies to athletes.

For the last two months, as training runs became longer, colder, and more strenuous, an idea began to surface for me.

There were days on training runs when we were breaking trail and moving so slow that it would have been easy (for me and the dogs) to become discouraged. Wading through knee-deep snow to hook up my 10 dogs seemed to take forever.  But the stamina and enthusiasm of the dogs is admirable and catching. Watching the snow cascade over their backs as they leap into the next drift, barking and clamoring for more despite the extreme effort of breaking trail is something to behold.

They inspire me.

But during those long strenuous runs, my role was also to coach, to inspire, to encourage them.

We have a symbiotic relationship. The energy I put into coaching and encouraging them is the same as what they give back. We rely on each other.

We have spent four months training and preparing for next weekend's Midnight Run. I have chosen the team and here's the line up:

Leading will be the dynamic sisterly duo of Big Brown and Ruffian.

Big Brown, who is neither big or brown, demonstrating how a good leader holds the line tight - even a tiny 40 lb one!

To say Ruffian is intense is an understatement. She is the "get up and go" in my team - a real cheerleader, always barking to go and barking more if we don't go fast enough!

In point are two young, up and coming stars and both young. Dirk, who is an older yearling, and my rising leader, and Cinder, who is two years old; this will be Cinder's first race ever.

Dirk, rising star leader for Team Diamond Dogs; the dogs run a full mile per hour faster when Dirk is in lead. He is young, so doesn't know commands yet, but has been a great trail leader

Cinder, who I acquired late in the season, but who has jumped right into training and become a super special girl in the team. Fantastic attitude, great feet, super eater, and beautiful to watch lope!

In team are yearling brothers from the Tak x Yeti litter, Perry and Tosh.

Always gentle, well-mannered and beautiful Tosh.

Big boy, Perry, is always playful and wagging no matter how long or difficult the run is. He has lead a few times and may have a place as a leader for the team soon

Finally pulling up the rear in wheel will be the backbone, veterans Fiona, who is 5 years old and the oldest dog on the team, and Miles, who is 2.

Fiona who is tireless and just getting warmed up after 20 miles

Miles, all brawn and muscle, and always jumping and barking to go

I have done my best to get this young team prepared so it has the confidence to play a good game. Our speed had been less than stellar from slogging through three feet of snow in the Upper Peninsula during the last month of training. And with this young team, I don't expect to win anything.

But we will enter the Midnight Run on Friday with our best paw forward - entering as mostly yearlings and emerging (hopefully) as seasoned canine athletes.

See you in Marquette and as always, mush love!

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