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.