4-year-old Jacob Anderson of Nikiski enjoys petting Kasilof musher Paul Gebhardt's lead dog Governor on Saturday during an event at the Kenai Chrysler Center.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
Fresh off his third place finish in the Iditarod, Kasilof musher Paul Gebhardt turned his attention to children Saturday in Kenai.
The children in attendance were those who missed out on the festivities associated with the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race ceremonial start back in January. In the ceremonial start mushers take kids for rides on their sleds and hobnob with them later, but the event was canceled this year due to extreme weather.
“The weather during the race weekend was negative 20. It was just too cold to do it,” said Bob Favretto, owner of Kenai Chrysler Center, where the ceremonial start is held.
“We really wanted to do something, but it was cold. Then it warmed up but it was time for Iditarod and Arctic Winter Games,” he said.
“This was the soonest a reschedule could take place,” said Janie Odgers, executive director of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and one of the organizers of Saturday’s event.
In addition to the free hot cocoa and cookies provided by the Kenai Eagles organization and Arby’s restaurant, Odgers said the children also received gift bags that included the numbered bib of the musher they would have ridden with, a T-200 DVD, race program, beanie, neck gaiter, a Peninsula Winter Games medal and a token for a free sub from Jersey Subs.
As much as the children enjoyed the gift bags, the goodies weren’t the only reason they had come. They came to meet a musher, and they met more than just Gebhardt.
He also brought his lead dogs “Governor” and “Houston,” who broke trail for much of the Iditarod.
On Saturday the dogs were content to be ice breakers for the crowd, licking faces and receiving pats from the kids.
Gebhardt allowed children to stand on his racing sled with him for photos and autographed pictures and trading cards of him and his Iditarod dog team.
He told tales of his most recent adventures in the race, such as his efforts to recover his dog team. After the gangline broke, his dogs kept going and he was left alone in the cold Alaska wilderness. His efforts to recover the team earned him the prestigious Humanitarian Award for the second time.
Kasilof musher Paul Gebhardt shows off one of his sled dogs Saturday at an event for kids.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
Gebhardt said he enjoyed spending time with the children despite being busy getting back to his construction business and still training for his next race the Kobuk 440 in April because he likes teaching kids about mushing and how much work and dedication goes into the dogs year-round.
“This is neat,” he said. “I like seeing the kids and telling them stories.”
Gebhardt said meeting the children Saturday afforded them something they wouldn’t have gotten back in January.
“Now that Iditarod is over, I’ve got fresh stories to tell,” he said.
Kim King, president of the T-200 race association, said that she thought Gebhardt was a hit.
“He did an excellent job connecting to the kids,” she said.
The kids agreed.
“I learned a lot and liked seeing the dogs and the sled,” said 12-year-old Brianne Smith of Soldotna.
Marty Abell of Soldotna said she was happy her 7-year-old granddaughter got to experience meeting a musher.
“She recently moved here from Minnesota to live with me. She had never been around dogs or any of this so she was disappointed when it was canceled, but this was really exciting for her. She is just jazzed,” Abell said.
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