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Hilltown musher sets sights on Alaska, 2015

  • COURTESY OF MARLA BRODSKY<br/>Marla Brodsky rounds a snowy corner with her sled dog team in Chesterfield.<br/>

    COURTESY OF MARLA BRODSKY
    Marla Brodsky rounds a snowy corner with her sled dog team in Chesterfield.

  • COURTESY OF MARLA BRODSKY<br/>Marla Brodsky with her sled dog team in Chesterfield.<br/>

    COURTESY OF MARLA BRODSKY
    Marla Brodsky with her sled dog team in Chesterfield.

  • FILE PHOTO Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, March 13, 2013. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)

    FILE PHOTO Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, March 13, 2013. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)

  • FILE PHOTO: Dogs on the team of Anna Berrington run in the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday, March 2, 2013, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/Dan Joling)

    FILE PHOTO: Dogs on the team of Anna Berrington run in the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday, March 2, 2013, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/Dan Joling)

  • COURTESY OF MARLA BRODSKY<br/>Marla Brodsky rounds a snowy corner with her sled dog team in Chesterfield.<br/>
  • COURTESY OF MARLA BRODSKY<br/>Marla Brodsky with her sled dog team in Chesterfield.<br/>
  • FILE PHOTO Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, March 13, 2013. (AP Photo/The Anchorage Daily News, Bill Roth)
  • FILE PHOTO: Dogs on the team of Anna Berrington run in the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Saturday, March 2, 2013, in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/Dan Joling)

For years, Brodsky, 54, has been preparing for the opportunity to get into the race.

Now she says it is time to make that happen.

“I have already established myself as a touring kennel, but now I am trying to establish myself as a racing kennel,” Brodsky said. “The dogs are in their prime now and this is my window of opportunity.”

But before she takes on the Iditarod, Brodsky must compete in at least three qualifying races including a mid-distance race covering 100 to 300 miles and a long-distance race covering from 300 to 1,000 miles.

The Iditarod’s roughly 1,000-mile competition, which starts March 1, takes mushers and their teams over mountain passes, frozen rivers and inhospitable tundra, as biting winds and bone-chilling temperatures test their perseverance. The race takes an average of eight to 12 days to complete.

Mushers generally spend an entire year preparing for the race and raising money to outfit themselves and their teams. In this regard, Brodsky hopes she is on track to have her go at the race in 2015.

But there is much to do before she gets to that point.

The physical stamina needed is profound, says Brodsky, who holds advanced degrees in tae kwon do. “Training for the Iditarod is much harder than being a martial artist,” she said.

Training challenge

The mushers are not the only ones preparing for the race. The dogs must build their endurance and know how to work with Brodsky and the rest of the team.

According to Brodsky, her 16 dogs, whose ages span from 1 to 4 years, are prepared to take on the race that defines the sport of mushing. “We are ready,” Brodsky said. “We will use this winter to race, train, build endurance and get more support,” she said.

Then, she hopes, it will be on to Alaska. This year, the race starts in Anchorage and runs to Nome, a distance of 975 miles.

Along with knowing how to handle the sled and care for the dogs, mushers must have outdoor survival skills, as they will be sleeping beneath the stars during the race. “I haven’t done any overnight races yet, so mushing at night in the northern lights could be beautiful, or it could be terrible, if you don’t know what you are doing,” she said.

In building her sled team, Brodsky received a gift from her mentor, a well-known musher named Aliy Zirkle. Zirkle has worked with the Iditarod Trail Committee and has competed in the Iditarod 12 times, coming in a close second for the past two years.

“I adopt out some of my dogs after they are finished racing competitively with me, and I immediately thought Marla would give one of my dogs a great home,” Zirkle said.

After adopting “Betty,” the retired sled dog had a litter of puppies and that was the beginning of Brodsky’s real mushing lifestyle.

“Marla has determination and her path is not an easy one, especially for someone living on the suburban East Coast,” Zirkle said, adding that Alaskans consider much of the Lower 48 to be “suburbia.” According to Zirkle, dog mushing in Alaska is a “normal lifestyle.”

“I have friends who mush their dog teams to church on Sunday. So, for Marla to really learn and someday run the Iditarod, I think her next step is coming north with her dog team, Zirkle said.

“Then we will see where that takes her. My guess is that she can go as far as her dreams will carry her,” she said.

Getting there

It takes more than determination, skill and a fast sled dog team to participate in the Iditarod. It takes financial backing.

“As the team grows, the expense grows. To segue from a touring kennel into a racing kennel, I need sponsorship,” Brodsky said.

All Iditarod mushers must have the appropriate dog sled, harnesses, an arctic parka, heavy sleeping bag, an ax, snowshoes, dog booties and sufficient food for themselves and their dogs.

“The booties alone are $1 a piece but you have to bring at least 200 of them,” Brodsky said. “Then I need to have the right gear to make sure that I am warm enough and that the dogs have everything that they need,” she said.

Northern Outfitters, a seller of extreme cold-weather gear, has agreed to sell Brodsky equipment at cost and several local business have signed on to support their local musher. Still, Brodsky says she still needs additional sponsorship.

She is working to purchase a $7,000 moving truck that she plans to customize to comfortably transport her dog team. She is also looking for a handler to help shoulder some of the load.

“A lot of mushers have an experienced handler to help train and care for the dogs and also have the support a spouse. So far, I have done all of this on my own,” she said.

With 16 dogs to train and care for on a daily basis, running Hilltown Wilderness Adventures, and raising her 9-year-old daughter part-time, Brodsky says she could use help.

“Being a handler is a great opportunity for someone to learn about racing and getting to run a team,” she said.

The first Saturday in March, the start of the Iditarod, beckons.

Though Brodsky won’t be in the race this year, her mentor, Zirkle, will be, with high hopes for placing.

As for Brodsky’s goals for next year, they are much more modest:

“My goal is to get there and finish respectfully,” she said.

Go Marla! Good luck to you and your team! How exciting for a local community member to be working towards one of the greatest races of all time!

I’ve been following this cruel race for years, especially the number of “dropped” dogs. The dogs are dropped due to injury, exhaustion, or not wanting to continue. More than HALF the dogs do not finish the race. No musher finishes with all 16 of their dogs and some finish with only 7 dogs. This horrible race kills dogs just about every year; at least 143 to date Dog deaths average about three per race. Six dogs died in 2009. It is cruel to have such a long, treacherous, unnecessary race when over half the dogs cannot finish, at the proven risk of injury, exhaustion, or death. When the dogs are not racing or training they are each kept on a short chain, attached to their small enclosure, not able to play or interact with their kennel mates. This is considered inhumane and illegal in many communities. People should boycott the Iditarod, and contact the sponsors to stop sponsoring it. By the way, one dog has died so far in the Yukon Quest, which isn’t over yet.

In a USA Today column, Jon Saraceno wrote of possible injuries for sled dogs: "In addition to fluid in the lungs, bleeding stomach ulcers occur, as does general cramping, dislocations, fractures, muscle and tendon tears, tendonitis, dehydration, hypothermia, raw paws, penile frostbite and viruses." In addition, they can die from "exertional myopathy," or running themselves to death. When a sled dog is about 10 years old, or has injuries or other circumstances that prevent it from racing, it is retired. Some mushers keep retired sled dogs as pets, some sell or give them to other people, and some are scooped up by rescue groups to be cared for and/or placed in a new home. Organizations' positions on the subject: Humane Society of the United States (HSUS): "The HSUS opposes the Iditarod in its current form -- or any other mushing event in which heavy emphasis is placed on competition and entertainment and in which dog deaths and injuries are regular consequences." Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights (AVAR): "We think the inherent cruelties involved in racing (including high probability of injury) make it an unacceptable practice, so there are no sled dog races that we would sanction as acceptable," says Pam Runquist, AVAR director of companion animal issues. SOURCE (there are plenty of others as well): http://www.animalplanet.com/animal-facts/peta-oppose-iditarod1.htm

Raising her nine-year-old daughter part time? In my experience of raising my children,parenting is definitely full time.

She means that she has joint custody.of her daughter..

Where does it say that?

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