I love this video. I posted it several years ago and I have thought about it often over the last week. This video was put together by the kids from the village of Shaktoolik. I spent very little time in Shak this year on Iditarod 2016 – but there’s always next year.

The Iditarod, the Yukon Quest and many of our shorter races travel through many villages like Shaktoolik. We cross the state (and the Yukon Territory) traveling from one village to the next. These small communities that dot our great state are tremendously supportive of our sport and understand our lifestyle. When I tell to a youth in Ruby that I was standing under the Northern Lights in the middle of the frozen river when I heard a snowmachine behind me… that kid knows what I’m talking about!

The youth in rural Alaska are like the youth in the rest of the world, they have their own ‘growing up’ issues, as well as family, peer and community problems. Every kid across the planet has had them and every one will. But, the youth in rural Alaska don’t always have the educational network and extended social programs that kids in more populated centers can find. I have seen this first hand in the 25 years that I have lived in small Alaskan communities and traveled through villages.

But, how does a dog musher try to help?

I certainly don’t have the education, skills or knowledge to help youth deal with their issues. I can’t bring any helpful tools or educational curriculum with me as I travel down the race trail. I don’t have hours during a race to truly listen to anyone and I wouldn’t assume that I could help when I struggle at times to help my self. So, the answer remained a mystery to me for many years.

Matson is a primary sponsor of SP Kennel and our dog mushing races. They support the Iditarod as well and even sponsor the ‘Most Improved Musher’ Award given at the banquet in Nome. Matson has also demonstrated its commitment to supporting organizations that seek to improve the quality of life in communities in which their employees live and work. Therefore when the Alaska arm of Matson decided to invest in Alaska’s youth by supporting The Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (ANDVSA) I wanted to become involved.

I met with the fantastic ANDVSA staff in August for the first time. They had an idea. Why not connect me with the Lead On conference? Lead On is a yearly youth leadership conference focused on violence prevention. It has three main goals:
1) to increase youth leadership skills
2) increase healthy relationships
3) to promote social change through community youth led projects

This year’s conference was held November 18-20 in Anchorage. I went to the conference simply to see if it was all the it seemed to be. It was! A total of 93 youth and 38 adult community partners from all across the state came together. I listened and learned. I talked to youth and to chaperones. And I thought “Wouldn’t it be neat if I could help recruit more youth from even more remote parts of Alaska?”

I had a small part in a workshop titled “Knowing Who you Are”. Myself, along with a Lead On youth alumni, Jennesy, spoke briefly about issues that we have faced and how we dealt with them. The workshop focused on the power of the self. The large group of youth listened intently to our stories and then explored their own personality traits, identities and strengths.

So, basically this is what I told my audience:
I fit no conventional mold. I never have. This doesn’t bother me now. I tried to fit a normal mold when I was a teen, at least for a year or two. But I pretty much failed to pull that off.
People might tell you how you should feel or act, as they did me. Some people will be helpful and some will be way off base. It’s okay to listen. You will mess up here and there and then you will find your path. Remember, it’s your path… so ultimately it’s up to you to find it. You can start by following the herd, there is no shame in that, or you can set out alone and try different routes, or you might just sit and watch for a while, then make a choice. Most of all, I believe, that you will be happy if you are true to your self. Find who you are… take your time because it’s important… and then do your best to live the life that you deserve with your friends, your family or your loved ones.

I can say for certain that: I know who I am. Of course, there have been ‘bumps in the road’ (for all of us) while we find the path that best suits our self. For some of us, the teenage years were challenging and for others we jumped hurdles in our 20’s, 30’s or even 40’s. Some of you might be reading this now in your 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and wondering Who am I? But, I am fortunate. At this point in my life. I Know. It begins with ‘dog’ and ends with ‘musher’. There is probably a bit more to it than that but I need to keep a few secrets.

I hope to have a future working with ANDVSA. I envision that Matson and I will work together to promote Lead On – to support the concept, to recruit sponsors, to increase participation, to advertise successes. This could be part of my game plan during and after the 2017 Iditarod.

Thanks, Alaska’s Youth, for supporting me and SP during my racing career. Your successes are the successes of all that live in this great state of Alaska that I call home.

15 Responses

  • Aliy, thank you very much for sharing that video again. Not knowing who you are is universal, especially when growing up and even into adulthood it can be very puzzling. You have given those kids a very precious gift, sharing your life and demonstrating that everyone feels that way at one time or another. Wishing you, Matson and ANDVSA a successful future.

  • Terrific story Aliy! Thanks for taking us down this journey. We have always appreciated your individuality and drive. Your PASSION is contagious! You certainly have caused me to catch
    it, I am one of your 60 year olds finding again who I am! THANKS and Mush on!
    Padee Fairbanks

  • It is people like you alyi who allow our youth to become awesome young adults. By being a great mentor and allowing them to see who you are as a person not just a musher who comes into there village and leaves. Keep up the great work..

  • Posts like this are one of the many reasons I admire Aliy and SPKennel. They find ways to take their talents, share them with others, lead by example and inspire the best in all of us. As a mid-50s something, it's taken me a while to be able to say (and accept) WHO I AM…but I do know now and there is such freedom in that. Thank you Aliy, Allen and all of you at SPK for all that you do and all that YOU ARE!

    Charlene K
    Erie PA

  • What an awesome organization to get involved with!!! Dittos on all the previous comments….our youth IS the future, and they need programs that are customized for them…..ANDVSA along with Lead On sound perfect for the Youth in Alaska!!! What an inspirational post…SO glad you are involved….Im sure the children of Alaska are glad too! Thank you for ALL you do SPK!!!

    Who Am I? Just a Homesteader out here in the Adirondacks…and a heck of a PROUD SPK supporter….seriously, couldnt be more proud! You Rock SPK!!!

  • Aliy, thanks for sharing this with all of us. You are reaching out to the youth of Alaska but your thoughts are true for kids around the world. I shared your post with my Grandson (16 years old) and hope he can find some things to ponder.

  • Yes, yes, and yes. Sounds like a great organization to devote time to, Aliy – thank you for giving back with your time and heart and for sharing it with us. How many of us are still discovering 'who we are'? Ha. In my fifties and I'm still figuring it out and it's a joyful -sometimes hilarious – journey. Wasn't a lot of 'joy' back in the teenage days but I didn't have the experience or wisdom to cultivate it. These kids don't, either. All we can do is show them that they can try out any life they want if they have the determination and work ethic. And please urge them to ask for help and be happy to fail/make mistakes. I've learned more from friends and mentors than I ever did in schools. I've learned more from making mistakes than anything else, period. If you don't try, you don't learn – failure and success come and go – but you learn a lot more from making mistakes. Oh – and being able to laugh at yourself is a big plus. This is where sled dogs helped me the most. If they don't make you laugh at yourself, nothing will. Maybe laughter is the biggest success of all. 🙂

  • Thank you, Aliy. After attending the Sobriety Celebration in Cordova, I have wondered what I could do to contribute to village well-being and health as an outsider.

    This foundation could be my way to attest to my desire to see villages become strong and healthy.


  • Thanks for posting this, Aliy. It sounds like a wonderful & much needed organization & you becoming part of it is not a surprise. I enjoyed reading the comments as there were several from 50 & 60 year olds. I thought I'd add mine. It was when I was in my 50s that I finally figured out who I was. Now I'm in my 60s, having to figure it out again. Better not take as long this time!! Thanks for sharing the video- I haven't seen it in a while & I always enjoy it.

  • Aliy, Thanks for sharing and your touching outreach to help ANDVSA. I wish and pray blessings on you and Matson as you follow the Spirit in leading you.
    Yes knowing one self and being true to one own self as all kinds of stuff and words swirl around and folks who perhaps with best intentions share what to do and feel and how to act. There is one key stone and paramount position to be comfortable at and act from; KNOWING ONE SELF on both the physical and Spiritual levels. To find that one thing that helps to ground oneself and that can give back as one gives. For me it is my dogs from the youngest to the oldest and my 3 service dogs. I personally just a short few weeks ago had what I believed reinforced by one of my service dogs MR Buddy. I have been challenged with several severe medical conditions and one of the is COPD from years of fighting fire from residential to smoke jumper at wildfires. I was taking a short nap and went into a severe COPD exacerbation. If Mr Buddy had not woken me my doctor says he does not think I would have work up. Upon waking a friend rushed me to the ER. Like a flash bulb going off all flashed in front me with the doctor saying that.
    I have bee giving great thought about knowing oneself and all the stages and experiences I have gone through. In doing so I have come to realize we are ever changing beautifully made creatures with an individual intentional purpose that go through a lot some good and some awful but the sum of it all is we are here for a purpose. In realizing the purpose we must know our self all the way to the basal level in our heart. From there grasp the Spirituality of our being and know if we let it all will work for good if we allow it. From there others can be encouraged, supported and find inner healing.
    With the sever several medical challenges I have been given, I find strength from knowing myself and from knowing truths on the Spiritual level. We can not dictate our journey of and through life but we can have a effect on it by being true to our selves and keeping close the Spirit and the helpers that has been given to us. For that I given thanks
    for my dogs. At this point the Spirit and my dogs at the ones keeping me going and still here and the ones who gave me the strength to beat Hospice and be graduated off Hospice and given long term care and YES still on my ranch.
    Some words that keep one foot in front of another and keep going:
    We are not evaluated by the number of times we fail, but by the numbers of times we succeed and win. However the number of times we succeed and win is directly proportional to the number of times we fail. Then get up know our selves and keep going to the finish line. 2 Timothy 2:5
    Life is a journey for all of us. Some go through awful stuff that no one should go through, I know. Life brings it joy,sorrow,and trauma. How well we do it is foundational in knowing one self, knowing the Spirit and the truth and the most important applying it. For if we do the journey will end in greatness. Philippians 1:6.
    For as my grandfather shared with me, he was a Sioux Shaman. One either does life or life will do one.
    GBY Aliy.

  • Inspiring video and post. It is so great Matson is investing in the youth of Alaska. We all, at some level, have a responsibility to invest in the communities we live in. Some have the ability to make a financial investment, and for others it's more of an investment of time….or both. Similar to what you said to the youth, sometimes you know exactly where you can contribute and sometimes you have to "wait and watch" to figure out where you can best contribute. As an empty nester in my upper 50's, my "who I am" as shifted slightly through the years. I love that you are open to getting involved with this, Aliy.

  • Good morning! I have been following SPK for a few years ever since an Iditarod article recaptured my Alaska childhood memories of following the race in school. I appreciate your approach to dog mushing, challenge and the people and ways of Alaskan life. Did you happen to catch the NYT article about Shaktoolik yesterday? i often think about the effects of climate change in Alaska and my heart went out to the good people of Shaktoolik when reading this piece. Thanks for bringing humanity and compassion to your sport and the people and dogs you love!


  • I really love this! I teach middle school in California, and showed it to my students. When it was over, they asked to see it again! They had so many questions about what it is like to live in Alaska – not that I could answer any of them 🙂 . It was very impactful for them. I think it's great for "kids to see kids" around the world. As we recognize our similarities, our lives become so much more compassionate and mindful for others around us. This video helped achieve that for my students. Thanks again for posting.

  • Thank you for being involved in the LeadOn Conference this year, Aliy. My daughter, Maggie Miller from Nome, was chosen to attend this year. She was encouraged to see your name on the agenda as a guest speaker, since she's watched you come across the Iditarod finish line almost every year of her life…
    LeadOn put together a great video of the Conference and your time together with the kids (actually highlights both you and Maggie in it!)… it's such an inspiring event for them. Thank you for your involvement, your continued support of our youth and their future and for being a positive role model for our young girls. Quyanna and see you here in Nome in March! 🙂

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