Running & Iditarod

I couldn’t contain my excitement in the Las Vegas airport earlier today as I walked back from the Hudson Newsstand.  With a smile on my face I explained to eight of my co-workers that I just bought the newest issue of Runner’s World Magazine and Anna and Kristy Berington were on the cover it.  This issue combined my love of running with the Iditarod, and I couldn’t have been happier.


Runner’s World magazine with the Berington sisters!

Once I got on the plane I sat down to read the article on the two Wisconsin natives.  It focuses on the twins’ training and their life at the kennel.  The article also highlights the importance Kristy and Anna put on running during the Iditarod—who estimate that they run nearly 100 of the 1,000 mile race.  It helps keep the sled lighter, and Anna points out that it also keeps them warm since standing on the back of a sled can get quite cold.

The article is a fun read and can be used in the classroom to promote fitness, but to also work on non-fiction article analysis.  I have attached a handout that can accompany the article if you want to analyze it with your students. Non Fiction Notes Berington Article

And if you do happen to pick up the Runner’s World issue, be sure to flip to 104 and read a little blurb from my younger sister, Colleen, as she talks about a local women’s race, which happens to take place tonight in Chicago.

It’s a pretty great day when running gets combined with the Berington sisters, Iditarod, and your little sister, so enjoy the read and get out there and run!

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Family and friends picture after tonight’s race in Chicago!

Picnic Fun!

Today was a day the teachers have been waiting all week for!  Today was the volunteer picnic and first day mushers can sign up for the 2017 Iditarod.  It was a beautiful day spent meeting rookies, chatting with veterans, and listening to stories from the volunteers.  By the end of the picnic there were 52 mushers signed up—12 rookies and 40 veterans.


Mushers chatting with one another!

Towards the end of the picnic each year there is an official handing over of the Teacher on the Trail sleeping bag which was very exciting.  Laura has done a fantastic job leading the way this year, and I am honored to represent the Iditarod, teachers around the world, and my school as the 2017 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail.

The last thing that happens at the picnic is a drawing for 2 free entries for the race.  Mushers must be present to win, so many stick around until the very end so they have a chance to win back the $4,000 entry fee.  This year one of the winners was Cindy Abbott, whom the teachers spent a lot of time this week.  Cindy’s reaction was so heartwarming, and the teachers excitedly cheered her on!  We cannot wait to follow Cindy’s journey on the 2017 race!


A very excited Cindy Abbott!


The teachers cheering on Cindy after she won a free entry for the race

Check out the Iditarod website to see if your favorite musher is signed up for the 2017 Iditarod!


Porcupines, and Moose, and Bears, Oh My!


A moose spotted within a beautiful Alaskan backdrop

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Tonight was a page out of a Gary Paulsen book.  While out on an evening drive with a few other teachers we spotted a porcupine, a moose, and a BEAR!  Living in Chicago these are not animals I see every day, so I was quite energized to see all three in one night.  The moose and porcupine were spotted within seconds of one another, and I jumped with excitement because those are two animals the character Brian encounters in Paulsen’s novel Hatchet, which my students read each fall.

Then, as we were getting ready to head back into Wasilla, a furry creature made its’ way in front of our car.  It took us a moment to get the words out, but we all screamed, “BEAR!” at the same time.  As the bear cleared the road and we drove past where we saw him, we saw a trash can on the ground with garbage everywhere.  It was clear that the bear was looking for some dinner.


The black bear crossing the road

After the excitement died down, I continued to think about these three animals and how they can all affect mushers and their dogs.  Here are some discussion questions you can use with students to get them thinking about animals on the trail and in training.

How can a musher protect the dogs in their kennel from animals such as bears or moose?

How do you think a sled dog would react to encountering a moose along the Iditarod trail?

Why is it important for mushers and dogs to keep a safe distance from these animals?

Students can also research these animals to discover more information about their habitat, eating habits, and lifespan.


Beautiful Alaska!


Choose Kindness


DeeDee with the beautiful quilt from 3rd graders in Colorado

On Tuesday the teachers had an emotional visit from Iditarod veteran musher, DeeDee Jonrowe.  371 days ago DeeDee’s life changed forever.  371 days ago the Sockeye fire began and destroyed many homes and livelihoods of those in Willow, AK.  DeeDee shared her story of heartache with us, and invited us over to see the rebuilding of her kennel.  The acts of kindness which DeeDee and the entire Willow community received in the months following the fire were an inspiration to the teachers and made us understand that a small act can go a long way.

The one act of kindness that stuck out to me came from a 3rd grade class in a small town in Colorado.  The town suffered extreme flooding not long before the Sockeye fire, and they received aid from neighboring towns.  The local 3rd grade teacher was so moved by the acts of kindness during their time of need, that she wanted to pay the kindness forward.  Her class chose to do something for DeeDee and her kennel after the fire.  The teacher had her students create quilt squares with pictures of DeeDee’s dogs; then, they sewed the squares together, and sent the quilt to her.  It is a beautiful piece of art and I am so thankful that DeeDee shared the quilt with us. It was an amazing act of kindness— one that impacted both DeeDee and the teachers at summer camp.

While acts of kindness are always appreciated during times of need, it is important to teach our students to CHOOSE KINDNESS!  Kindness is a way of life, not something we do every once in a while.

“A little spark of kindness can put a colossal burst of sunshine into someone’s day!” –Unknown


DeeDee Jonrowe with current and former Teachers on the Trail

Iditarod Inspiration


Puppy walks!

The last two days at summer camp have been quite exciting.  We’ve listened to presenters, gone on puppy walks, and enjoyed getting to know one another.  However, besides the adorable puppies, there have been two parts that have stuck out to me.

First, Jeff Schultz, official Iditarod photographer, visited us and taught us his best practices of taking pictures, along with sharing his many stories from the trail.  Jeff has been volunteering his photography skills to the race for over 35 years, so his passion and knowledge for the race were truly an inspiration to all of us.


Jeff Schultz teaching the campers how to take great pictures.

Then, we had a surprise guest visit us before dinner last night.  Larry Daugherty, first time finisher this year, stopped by to share his story with all of us.  Larry explained that his love for the Iditarod began when he was ten years old when his grandmother would send him articles about the race from Alaska.  Larry followed his dream to Alaska, with his family in tow, and completed the 2016 Iditarod (despite taking his dogs in the wrong direction towards the beginning of the race).

One person Larry spoke to us about was his high school debate coach, Mike Burton.  Coach Burton helped Larry overcome obstacles, and made him feel as if he could achieve his dreams.  It reminded me that by using the Iditarod in our classrooms we are making an impact on our students and teaching them the importance of dreaming big and working hard to make their dream a reality.  As we say often up here, the Iditarod is more than just a race… it is a powerful teaching tool which inspires our students to work hard to reach their goals.


Larry Daugherty with the teachers at summer camp.


Greetings from the Windy City


The Chicago skyline from Ping Tom Park in Chinatown

I am so excited to be the 2017 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail™!  I teach 4th grade at Saint Andrew School in Chicago, and I will be starting my eighth year this fall.  I teach math, social studies, language arts, and religion.  Besides teaching at Saint Andrew I also run an after school Irish dance program and help with the cross country team.


Ice climbing on Root Glacier in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

I am a born and raised Chicagoan; however I love being in nature whenever I can!  I enjoying camping, hiking, kayaking, and I’ve just started to get into backpacking.  Running is also a passion of mine.  I have completed 8 marathons, including the Anchorage marathon last year.  Over the next year I plan on “running” the Iditarod trail (1,049 miles of running!).  My adventurous bone has led me to many beautiful places including the San Juan Islands, Smoky Mountains, and a month long trip to Alaska.  Needless to say, I am extremely grateful and excited to travel down the Iditarod trail in March.


Hiking in Minnesota with a pup friend

The last few days have been quite exciting up here in Alaska.  Teacher Summer Camp is underway and the group will be spending the next few days at Vern Halter’s Dream-a-Dream Dog Farm in Willow, AK.  The teachers will be treated to presentations by 2015 Red Lantern winner Cindy Abbott, mushing veteran Deedee Jonrowe, photographer Jeff Shultz, and many more Iditarod favorites.  Stay tuned for updates throughout the week!

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My family and I after completing the Chicago Marathon in 2015


Happy Trails to You…

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Laura Wright, 2016 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail in Nome- photo courtesy of Mike Kenney

The time has come for me to say “good-bye” to my Teacher on the Trail™ Iditarod year.  I started this journey a year ago. I have had the most extraordinary year sharing and learning with teachers and Iditarod fans around the world.  I spent some time today scrolling through hundreds of photos and videos from my time on the trail and found a few special top moments I wanted to share with family, friends, and fans who have supported me this year.  

#1 My Wonderful 4th Grade Class


The most amazing, incredible group of students on the planet

I would not be the Teacher on the Trail™ without these incredible kids.  We had a blast showing off our talent, attitude, and creativity this year.  I am the luckiest teacher to have had such wonderful students to share this experience with me.  This year will connect us forever, and it warms my heart to think about that.  Great job mustangs!

#2 Headlights at Night and the Juniors

People often ask me about my favorite memory from the trail, and I can honestly say that my time with the Jr. Iditarod was very memorable and special on so many levels.  I loved seeing young people be so responsible and show such integrity in the care and welfare of their dogs.  They also had fun being together and bonding.  I wanted to be a teenager again!  This memory from the Yenta Roadhouse was one of my favorites.  The young mushers and their teams rode out at night with only their headlamps to guide them.  I had always wanted to see this myself, and as I stood on the frozen Yenta River, late at night, with Barbara Redington by my side, I really felt a part of something unique and special.

#3 The Jon Van Zyle Style

What is there to say about the master artist of the Iditarod?  He is charming, talented, and the real-deal musher from times long ago.  I remember visiting his home and studio last summer, and I was casually told to go to the next room and see the newly finished painting that would soon become the official 2016 Iditarod poster.  This really moved me to tears.  This made it all real for me.  This beautiful piece of art would not only represent The Last Great Race on Earth®, but it would also represent me and my time as a part of it.  Before the race this year, Jon was gracious and signed my copy of the poster with a special note of encouragement to me.  I will treasure it forever!


Thanks for the memories Jon!

#4 My IditaRider Moment!

It was such a thrill and honor for me to show off the maple leaf of Canada in Jason Campeau’s sled at the ceremonial start of the race.  What is it like to be in a musher’s sled on 4th Avenue?  Watch a few minutes of our travel to the starting line, and hear rookie musher, Kim Franklin with me well!  So cool!

#5 Joe Pendergrass!

The men and women of the Iditarod volunteer Air Force are extraordinarily dedicated.  Joe is one of these special people, and I am proud to say, a personal friend. 


Joe and “Tex on the Trail” from Eanes Elementary School

I was thrilled when he flew me to my very first checkpoint at Yentna.  It was a special experience, and to have a friend by my side was the icing on the cake.

#6 The Lights

I remember clearly when I left my classroom to come to Alaska.  One of my students yelled out to me, “I hope you get to see the northern lights Ms. Wright!”  We studied the aurora borealis all year and they were a passion of ours in science, art, and our writing.  We were especially thrilled when Iditarod chose to put the eerie phenomenon in their 2016 logo design.  We were certain it was just for us.  It was pure magic to see the lights in Elim one night.  I watched them move and shimmer until the cold froze my fingers, and I could no longer take pictures.  A lifelong goal was fulfilled.  


Glow baby…glow!

#7 You Gotta Have Friends

One of the best parts of being Teacher on the Trail™ are the friends you make along the way.  There are too many to mention, but these special people helped make this journey the wonderful, unique experience it was.  Thank you all!

#8 A Good Laugh in Shaktoolik

I distinctly remember landing on the frozen sea ice at the Shaktoolik checkpoint and realizing I was not quite prepared for the cold.  Local resident Edgar met the plane and informed me we had to walk the long mile to the checkpoint.  I was worried and colder than I could have ever imagined.  At one point even Edgar, with a huge grin, laughed about the freezing temperature.  We continued to giggle about it all as we trudged along.  Suddenly a Shaktoolik resident walked outside his home wearing shorts and a t-shirt.  Edgar and I laughed even harder…at ourselves!  I really felt like a Texan that day!  Edgar had one of the best attitudes I have ever met in another person.  He made me smile in a tough moment, and I will always appreciate it.


Finally warm at the checkpoint!

#9 A Helping Hand 

Several mushers helped me this year to share this experience with so many people.  They helped me with lesson plans, they encouraged me, they made me laugh, and they inspired me.  I was proud to share their stories.

#10 From Austin City Limits to the Windy City!

I am now handing over the reins to a new IditarodTeacher on the Trail™, Annie Kelley, from Chicago.  I am excited for her journey this year, and she is enthusiastic and ready to share her experiences with teachers all over the world.  The Iditarod is in good hands.  Happy trails to you Annie!


Take it away Chicago!