Dog sledding twins “meet their match”


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Iditarod Ceremonial Start

In downtown Anchorage, where C street meets 4th, I stood on a lane of snow right in the middle of the intersection. Against the blue sky, helicopters and drones hovered above. Down each road, people in parkas bustled about with harnesses and ropes as dogs howled. Sidewalks and rooftops filled with onlookers while photographers jockeyed for positions along the curbs. The ceremonial start of the last great race on earth was about to begin: The IDITAROD.

Month’s prior, when our 14-year old twin daughters received an invitation from the Berington twins to ride behind them on a whip-sled during the ceremonial start of the race, I half-thought I knew what we were getting into. For the first eleven miles of the race, the girls would be dog-handlers of sorts; working a secondary brake while helping with the dogs. After scouring youtube video’s and signing up to be an “Iditarod Insider,” I figured I’d grasped the event. Then I found myself in the middle of that intersection, jaw hanging open – in total awe. I realized, the event can’t be grasped. It can’t be described or taught or googled – to fully understand, it can only be experienced.

With our daughters participating as dog-handlers, my husband and I were given press-pass like armbands, which enabled us to walk right down the street to the starting line. We settled into a spot by the announcer’s booth, looked at each another, and just laughed. Under the rumble of the crowd, we knew what each was thinking, “how many parents get to watch their kids do this!?” In two-minute intervals, teams approached the starting line. The announcer enthusiastically read the musher’s bio while media cameras encircled the sled and volunteers held back the dogs. And as the countdown began, I witnessed a phenomenon. On the count of three; dogs began howling, on two; lunging, and on one; there was no holding them back. Who knew… sled dogs could count – backwards even!

It was so exciting for us to cheer on each musher because we had met many of them two nights before at the musher’s banquet. Honestly, I don’t think we’ve ever met a group more genuinely, friendly individuals. All of the mushers signed autographs and talked with our girls – encouraging them to follow their dreams. And we absolutely loved finding out about all of the traditions that go along with the race. I mean, come on…pulling each bib number out of a mukluk – priceless!! As the race progressed, the dogs got more and more excited. What many people don’t realize is that Alaskan sled dogs are born and bred to pull and run. Nobody can make them do it – it’s what they live to do. From their fur, stride, body length, and heart rate, they are pure canine athletes. And this race… this race is THEIR superbowl. If anyone has ever wondered how a musher gets his or her dogs to compete in a race, go to a race. The difficult thing isn’t getting them to go, it’s getting them to stop!

Our first daughter to approach the starting line was with Kristy Berington. She looked like a mini-me of Kristy’s – not because of the same braids or matching headbands, but because of the same excited smiles. Smiles that seemed to say, “this is what I was born to do.” And when our second daughter came to the line with Anna Berington… same exact thing. Two sets of identical twins with the same passion for a uniquely awesome sport. Another jaw-dropping moment. After both twins had taken off, we drove to the finish line outside of town. After the race, the girls helped Anna and Kristy with the dogs and then we had to say goodbye. Kristy and Anna were off to the official start in Fairbanks, and we had to head back to Minnesota. On the drive back through Anchorage, the girls told us all about the trail – hitting trees, tipping over, seeing moose… all of it, totally awesome!

And then, we all became silent for a moment. As each of us tried to process such an amazing day and stash it away in our memory banks, the bright midday sun illuminated the mountains that surrounded us… and I know, we all thought the exact same thing. We’ll be back.


1st Race: 1st Place!

The very first race for our twin daughters was a day that ended with my husband and I still laughing as our heads hit the pillow. The “City of Lakes Loppet Race” was originally supposed to be a point-to-point race through the city of Minneapolis – but with little or no snow, we figured it would be cancelled. On the morning of the race, I happened to see on the local news that the events were modified and the dogsled race was set to continue. Still in a robe and only on my first cup of coffee, I poked my bed-head into the workout room and said, “hey honey, that race is still on – wanna have the girls try it?” He hemmed and hawed and suggested we leave it up to Carlie and Chloe. Of course, the twins were ecstatic and immediately changed from pajamas into mushing gear. We’d bought the rag-tag team a year ago but had yet to race them – and with the girls participating in the ceremonial start of the Iditarod in Alaska this year, we hoped they’d get one practice race under their belt! Within the hour, we were on the road with the dogs and everything we thought we might need. On the drive, we explained that this was a day of learning and hopefully… finishing. We arrived early and found our way to the registration chalet. First glitch – no same-day registration. Uh oh. But, with a little begging and identical double smiles, an exception was made for them 😉 With race-bibs in hand, we were feeling pretty confident as we drove up to the musher parking area. Hmm… second possible glitch. Professional light weight racing sleds sat atop every trailer and most of the teams consisted of six dogs that were twice the size of ours. We only had a total of eight dogs so the girls would have two teams of four – pulling mammoth sleds. A musher walked up to our window with a smile, pointed to the blue beast strapped to our dog-box and said, “nice freight sled.” My husband, remaining proud, replied back, “yep, we made it in the garage – it weighs about 80 pounds.” The man went on to tell us about his sled that he’d just paid roughly $3,000 for – weighing in at 20 pounds. When he left, we laughed and all agreed that we were going to be laughed at. Lucky for us, we are the Beatty’s – a family that’s never seemed to care. As the race time drew near, an informal musher meeting was held in the parking lot. Out of the twelve mushers, our girls were the youngest by 20 years. The race official went over the importance of passing etiquette and he kept reiterating how technically challenging the icy course would be. When he asked if anyone had never raced before, the twins raised their hands and a seasoned musher actually rolled her eyes – as if saying, “this might be a disaster.” Glitch #3: Possible ornery mushers. My husband asked the race official if our daughters could start last; that way, no one would have to worry about passing them or getting held up. The official agreed and even told us that he’d mush a team just ahead of them in case they needed any help. We felt better and returned to the dogs to harness them up. Glitch #4: the team sensed two things in the air that sent them into hysterics. The first thing was the looming start of the race, and the other; two females that ironically went into heat. We could only laugh. The howling and barking of our team was so deafening, a man came up and told us that he could hear our dogs several blocks away. Other mushers walked their well-behaved teams of six right by on leashes. Although the majority of our dogs were senior citizens, they dragged us (and four volunteers) all the way to the staging area. And when we hooked them up to the sled… oh boy, they became more insane – lunging in their harnesses with all their might. An internal Alaskan-bred desire to just pull, pull, pull. In one-minute intervals, the other teams slid away from the starting gate, smiling and waving to the crowd. While volunteers held our dogs back, my husband told the girls to ride the break and not worry about trying to pass anyone. With that, they were on their way to running their first race. We went to the halfway turn in time to see both girls flying down a steep hill – the dogs in all their glory; tongues hanging out with paws outstretched. Airborne. Full speed, passing other mushers, no breaking. And we remembered; they’re competitive gymnasts… competitive. Like the dogs, breaking isn’t in their DNA. We wondered if this would end in one giant glitch. I decided to head back to the finish line and wait for them to hopefully come across. Over the loud speaker, the announcer commentated on various bios of racers that had come from all corners of the state. Then, as a little musher came screaming around the corner towards the finish line, the announcer exclaimed, “And here comes…a…a… a girl from Lakeville!” I couldn’t believe my eyes – Chloe taking first place! Two more racers came through and then, “The other sister from Lakeville!” – Carlie taking forth! We laughed again as Chloe climbed on top of the podium and they handed her a giant check for $500 dollars. We hadn’t even known there was a cash prize!  In the end, the musher with the $3,000 racing sled – well, he told us that he was going to look for a good ole freight sled too. With an old team of dogs and a homemade sled, our girls proved it once again; with a little faith and the ability to laugh – anyone can follow their dreams anywhere. And when it’s against all odds… it’s even sweeter. 🙂


IMG_3969 Youngest mushers to enter the race…. by 20 years!


Oh great… 2 dogs in heat!


Lining up for the race.

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