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Maple the sled dog looks at Laura Neese during the Idita Quest at Baker Theatre on Tuesday, April 11. Neese grew up in Newark, Ohio, and finished two of the longest dog races in the world by the age of 20.

Idita-Quest brought a northern chill to Baker Center Theatre

Sled dog racing champion Tasha Stielstra along with husband Ed Stielstra and Nature’s Kennel teammate, Laura Neese, presented Idita-Quest, stories from the Yukon Quest and Iditarod sled dog races, to Baker Center Theatre on Tuesday evening.

Together, Tasha and Ed own Nature’s Kennel, home to 150 of the Midwest’s best canine athletes. The Post sat down with Tasha after their presentation to find out more information about the sport they’re passionate about.

The Post: “What is the competitive spirit like between teams on the course?”

Tasha Stielstra: “It’s pretty congenial because if anybody has a problem on the trail people always help each other out because you could be the next one having a problem … If one dog team is having trouble like, crossing open water, everybody behind stops and pulls their teams off and helps them to get through.”

P: “At checkpoints where you might only have a few hours to get yourself and your dogs rested up, how do you get all the dogs to immediately fall asleep?”

TS: “They practice sleeping. So at home when we train, we’ll do a long enough run, maybe 40 miles so they’re tired. Then we put straw down and they sleep. So they’re trained that when they see the straw, they know it’s time to rest.”

P:  “Do the dogs recognize when they have successfully completed a run?

TS: They know checkpoints or completion because they can smell a bonfire, they can hear people and they can smell the straw. So they know some sort of rest stop is coming. So they do start to memorize those checkpoints and finish lines.”

P:  “Looking at miles and miles of the same scenery for weeks, what do you think about on the trail?”

TS:  “You pretty much think about staying awake, that’s pretty hard sometimes just struggling to stay awake because you’re cold. You kind of solve all the world’s problems in your head but then you don’t remember what you thought about as you go. Doing math gets really hard when you’re tired so you can kind of do mental math to keep yourself awake.”

P:  “Do you see changing temperatures changing famous races like the Iditarod in the coming years?

TS: The Iditarod has changed. They’re starting out of Fairbanks more often now than they used to because of warmer temperatures. You got to remember Alaska is at the northernmost pole, so Nome is seeing (more) climate change than what we are here (Ohio). I see some change in Michigan where our season is lasting probably a little shorter than usual, winter is starting a little bit later … we’re ten degrees away from rain where we used to be 20 degrees away. So yeah, I think it’s definitely changing.”


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