Topeka students get first first-hand look at iconic Iditarod race
April 9th, 2018
Following the mushers in Alaska’s Iditarod dog race has been a combination of lessons in math and geography for a group of Meadows Elementary students.
“It was happening in our classroom,” said Diane Kimsey, a fourth-grade teacher, said of the Iditarod, nicknamed the “Last Great Race.” “We felt it, we saw it. My students were doing the math to figure out how many minutes it was taking for the mushers to get from one checkpoint to the next. The math we were doing was incredible.”
Nearly all of Kimsey’s students were able to follow one Iditarod musher using the event’s online GPS tracker during the 1,000-mile race through mountains, rivers, forests and Alaska’s tundra. Racer Steve Watkins, a 1995 graduate of Topeka West High School and a candidate in the Kansas 2nd District race for U.S. Congress, and Viking, a retired Iditarod racing dog, visited the class Monday.
He showed the students on a map they made where he had raced in Alaska.
“The Iditarod is a framework that allows teachers to hang any type of curricula to it,” he said. “They can do math, they can do natural sciences, the freezing temperature of water, they can do history.”
Keaton Wolfley, 10, followed Watkins’ progress throughout the race, which began March 3.
“I learned that he races for disabled veterans and when he was younger, he was in the Army,” Wolfley said. “We wrote stories about our person and we also wrote some facts.”
Watkins, who started mushing in 2001, said that in addition to teaching children about the different aspects of the Iditarod, he talks about the values that are needed to participate in such a grueling event.
“Like goal-setting and persevering when things get tough,” he said. “There’s anti-bullying in my presentations as well.”
According to a statement from the Iditarod Trail Committee, Watkins, along with another musher, Tara Cicatello, were withdrawn from the race on March 15.
“Both Tara and Steve faced very tough conditions along the Yukon River, which led to them falling behind in the race field,” said Iditarod race marshal Mark Nordman. “Due to this distance behind the rest of the field, it unfortunately was not feasible to keep the infrastructure in place to support their race efforts going forward.”
“Steve races to participate, he doesn’t race to win,” Kimsey said. “My students said, ’wait a minute, I don’t always have to be the winner? That meant so much to these 9-year-olds.”