"You might scratch your heads and ask me why I race the Iditarod," Iditarod Musher Duane Halverson told the students at North Clay Middle School last week.
A volunteer who helped organize the first Iditarod Dog Sled Race in 1973, Halverson started competing in the race in 1977. "Nothing is more satisfying than being out there in the peace and solitude with a team of dogs that you have trained to be a dog team."
Halverson educates the students about his dog sled, mushing equipment, survival arctic wear from the race, his trophies and of course his lead dog Chinook. The curious sixth-graders, who have been studying about Alaska and the Iditarod in Social Studies classes, were transfixed by his program.
Halverson believes that the entertainment overload facing society today is the reason that many people never truly learn to like themselves and are bored when not stimulated by something. He challenges people to spend 24 hours alone, turning off their televisions, computers and radios to read a good book or spend time dreaming of the future that lies ahead.
"In the fourth grade I read two books that changed my life forever," Halverson said, holding up Jack London's "Call of the Wild" and "White Fang". "The stories of the Alaskan wilderness excited me so much I couldn't go to sleep for days. I decided right then that I would move to Alaska when I grew up."
With that idea in mind, young Halverson went to a hardware store and purchased hinges for the front door of the future cabin he would build when he grew up. He explained that dreams are important keys to success.
"My mother patted me on the head when I explained why I bought those hinges," Halverson said At the age of 19, in search of adventure, he moved to Alaska. "The hinges I bought in fourth grade are on the door of the cabin I built. Dreams just don't happen, you have to work towards making them come true."
Halverson's dreams of adventure have been surpassed by his participation in the Iditarod Dog Sled Race. He has successfully completed the Iditarod race nine times, placing as high as 2nd. He has received the Alascom Midway Award, the Gold Coast Award, the Sportsmanship Award for a life-saving rescue effort in 1996 and served on the Iditarod Trail Committee Board of Directors.
Riding behind a dog sled, alone, 20 hours a day for weeks on end is a difficult thing for many people to understand.
But Halverson said, "You're never alone when surrounded by 16 of your closest friends. It's a gift, learning to like yourself, to respect nature. You find out so much about yourself out there in the wilderness."