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Real-life musher adds to literary journey with Iditarod stories

Filed in Archive, Slingerlands by on February 21, 2018

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WIth a tale of survival traveling by sled along more than 1,300 miles of mostly wilderness in Alaska, a special guest speaker helped bring real-life detail to the story Slingerlands’ students read recently about a pig who dreams of being a sled dog. That guest speaker was Ken Hamm, a musher who competed the Iditarod more than 30 years ago. He visited the school on Friday, Feb. 16, sharing photos, vivid memories of the race, and the gear he used during his 1983 adventure with 16 sled dogs.

Hamm’s presentation complemented this year’s One School, One Book project in which all Slingerlands’ students and their families read a book at home over the course of several weeks. This year’s book, The Adventures of a South Pole Pig, told the story of Flora, a pig who wanted to join a sled dog team in Antarctica. 

By recounting his trip with his 16 dogs, Hamm brought to life his 15-day journey on the southern leg of the Alaskan Iditarod trail. Hamm and his team, who entered as novice competitors, finished 27th of the 74 teams who began the race. The race, which celebrates the sport of mushing, has been held annually since 1973. It takes place every March and follows one of two trails from Willow, Alaska to Nome.

Hamm discussed the history of the Iditarod with students and described the life-saving heroics of a musher and his dog Balto, who led a sled dog team across difficult terrain to deliver medicine and prevent a deadly outbreak of diphtheria in 1925.

During his own journey, Hamm said sleep deprivation and hallucinations were common on the trail, telling students about seeing flying saucers in the night sky and once, imagining a knight in shining armor was approaching his sled.

“They say as the race goes on, you begin to think like a dog and the dogs begin to think like people,” Hamm said.

Some of those dogs received great praise from Hamm, who credited a dog named Lucky for being a solid team leader. Others, he said, had to be coaxed along but stressed how important it was to protect the lead dogs from the psychological fatigue that comes with being at the front of the sled.

Hamm showed the students photos of many of the dogs who were members of his 1983 team, including Anna, Freckles, and an aptly-named Jerry Ford, who was thrust into a position of leadership in order to support his team.

“I found when I called him Mr. President, it made him a better leader,” Hamm noted.

The students got to see many of his artifacts from the race, including the booties used to protect the sled dogs’ paws and the warm weather gear Hamm used to protect himself from the brutal weather conditions along the trail.

Thank you, Mr. Hamm, for sharing your exciting story with our students!