Although mother nature was less than cooperative towards winter enthusiasts across the Kenai Peninsula in 2003, the volunteers that coordinate the Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race used the hiatus to prepare for an even better race in 2004.
With the onset of true winter weather now, the race committee is gearing up for what will be the 20th running of this Kenai Peninsula Iditarod Qualifying event.
The Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race is scheduled for the last weekend in January, and will be part of the greater, Peninsula Winter Games festivities. Originally started by Dean Osmar in 1984, the Tustumena 200 has grown be tremendous proportions in recent years. From humble beginnings, the event now boasts the highest race purse of any 200-mile sled dog race in the nation, with the winning musher taking home a whopping $10,000 in prize money.
But what truly sets the Tustumena 200 apart from other mid distance sled dog races, is the integration of a Ceremonial Start similar to that of the well- known Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. The brainchild of local business leader and race sponsor, Bob Favretto of Kenai Chrysler Center, the Tustumena 200 Ceremonial Start was added in 1997. Bringing together the Peninsula Winter Games committee and the Tustumena 200 Race Volunteers, the Ceremonial Start of the race takes place in Kenai. Featuring rides in the sleds of mushers entered in the race, the Ceremonial Start offers disabled and disadvantaged children to ride with the mushers at no charge.
It is a unique element of the Tustumena 200, that has proven popular with the community and mushers alike. Past Tustumena 200 race winner, Ramy Smith of Big Lake, AK has said "the kids riding in the sleds are part of why I come down to run this race. It makes a person feel good."
For the dedicated volunteers that work to put on this world class event, the Tustumena is all about making a person feel good. From the volunteers on snowmachines that assist with marking the 200 miles of race trail, to the workers manning phone lines at race central while the race is ongoing, volunteers are what make the event a true success.
With only two months to the start of the 2004 race, the Tustumena 200 is seeking volunteers to help out. Race President, Roy Hoekema, can personally attest to the fact that no experience is necessary to join the ranks as a volunteer. Hoekema has enthusiastically volunteered to assist with trail
marking efforts, and has stepped forward to enjoy the on-the-job training that is provided in being a volunteer. There are opportunities that involve spending time outdoors, indoors or working directly with the canine athletes that comprise the teams of the 40 mushers entering this year's race. An organizational meeting for the 2004 Tustumena 200 Sled Dog Race will be held at the Tustumena Lodge in Kasilof on Thursday, November 20th at 7:00 pm. The race is scheduled, mother nature cooperating.. for January 30-February 1st, 2004.
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