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Mushing is about the dog: Rough draft

A veteran musher spoke Monday about the importance of training, nutrition and trust between the dogs and handlers in a grueling race like the 373-mile John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon ran last week.

“It’s all about the dogs—we need to keep them healthy,? said Matt Rossi in a speech given with his wife, Paula, at UMD in the Kirby Rafters.

“Our dogs are better trained now than they ever have been. Healthy coats, feet and appetites are all important.?

The Rossis have 35 dogs and have been raising and racing them for eight years.

“We have these dogs 365 days a year, 24 hours a day,? said Rossi. “It’s not just a seasonal sport.?

The Rossis live in Herbster, WI and train their dogs year-round. The dogs pull a heavy four-wheeler through neighboring Chequamegon National Forest as part of their offseason training.

“The four-wheeler is hard muscle building stuff,? said Rossi.

The sled pulled by the dogs in a race is filled with 150 pounds of mandatory equipment—everything from a compass and maps to food and an alcohol-fueled cooker.

During a race the dogs eat raw meat and other high protein foods.

“They get a lot more out of raw meat than they do from cooked meat,? said Rossi. “They need to eat at every checkpoint.?

During a race like the 1,150-mile Iditarod in Alaska, a dog can burn up to 10,000 calories a day. Nutrition is important.

A sled dog race is quiet and filled with solitude. The lead dog is 20 feet out in front and must make decisions.

“It’s just you and the dogs,? said Rossi. “There has to be a huge love and trust, or else it doesn’t work.?

Rossi competes in about five races a year but missed the John Beargrease because of a cold. Many of the races have been canceled this year because of the lack of snow in a warm January.

The Rossi’s son, Andrew Letziring, finished ninth in the 2006 John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon and was given the good sportsmanship award. His time was 37 hours, 4 minutes.

Rossi says sled dog racing is “90 percent maintenance and 10 percent fun, but that 10 percent is quality fun, and that’s what keeps you going.?

“At night you’re under a sky full of stars and all you have is a single light—there’s nothing like it in the world.?


Very well done ;)