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Fourth graders hit the bike path for “Ikidarod”

Two Ikidarod teams head around the curves at Oregon Park West's bike path during Friday's race.
Two Ikidarod teams head around the curves at Oregon Park West's bike path during Friday's race.

Working together was paramount when Oregon fourth graders hit the bike path running on a chilly morning at Oregon Park West last Friday.

After studying the history of the Iditarod in the classroom for several weeks, two teams from each fourth grade class grabbed their “towlines” and “sleds” and headed out to race.

“We started studying about the Iditarod at the end of February,” said fourth grade teacher Tiffany Rufer. “We read about its history and each student got to pick a musher and track their progress. We had 10 teams which was basically each class split into two teams and there was around 11 students on each team.”

Students chose their own team name and made signs for each of the “sleds” (wagons) including the Start and Finish signs.

Mushers, the person riding in the sled/wagon, used commands — Hike, to start, Gee, turn right, and Haw, turn left — to guide their team through the park.

Donning helmets the mushers barked out the commands to their team of pullers who held on to a yellow nylon rope attached to each wagon.

Each team departed from the start line in staggered start times.

Then each team stopped at checkpoints along the route. Sometimes they had to answer questions about the race, or figure out a math problem while at another they snacked, commemorating the real race’s “layover” to rest the dogs.

At the final checkpoint each team had to select a card to find out what type of weather was ahead.

Teams earned points for correct answers and received deductions for wrong answers or missing a curve.

Each team also had to transport an egg the length of the course, representing a crucial aspect of Iditarod history when the diphtheria serum was transported in 1925 by mushers and their dogs from Anchorage to Nome.

If the egg was damaged, the team lost points. “Unfortunately the first team’s egg had a crack in it,” said one of the judges Wes Eckerd.

“The big thing we talked about was teamwork,” said Rufer.

After all the team’s scores were tallied, the Wildcats team was announced as the winner.

When asked what was their key to posting the best time, team member Sebastian Wright, quickly smiled and said, “Teamwork”.

“And the mushers were really nice and consistent,” said team member RJ Keene.

“We had more confidence at the end of the race than we did at the start,” said Cooper Johnson.

“The high schoolers helped us a lot by telling us when to stop and go,” Carlee Sowl said.

Retired teachers Jean Hoff and Paula Davis organized the first Oregon Ikidarod in the mid-1990s. Rufer said she was glad to continue the tradition this year adding that the event was made possible by the cooperation and coordination of teachers, volunteers, parents, high school helpers, and other support staff.

“Tim Gipper prepares the harnesses for us and this year we had a couple more teams so he had to make a couple more,” Rufer said. “And Mr. Boyer took the students out to the course beforehand so they could practice. The high school helpers also ran alongside each team to help.

“Our community came together to make this happen. It was really nice to see everyone pull together,” Rufer said.

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