Steve Renner and daughter, Lara, and their Siberian Husky dogs visited their parents and grandparents, Steve and Marie Renner, at Parkview Place in Springfield before heading north to Alaska.

Renners cheer teen’s quest for Iditarod

Lara Renner, 15, of Alton, New Hampshire, has her eyes set on the 2018 Junior Iditarod in Alaska

She has a strategy, a passion for mushing and a very supportive family who believes in her, despite the worries of sending out a young girl into the wilderness with a team of dogs. 

“Team Snowspeeders” — Lara and her father, Steve Renner, and their Siberian Husky sled dogs, spent the weekend of Jan. 13-14 in Springfield visiting parents and grandparents before heading to Alaska for the Iditarod. (Grandfather Steve, a 1966 graduate of Springfield High School, is the son of Steve and Marie Renner who live in Parkview Place.)  

Lara became interested in sledding at the age of five years.  It started during a cleaning of the basement in the family home where Lara found a Husky stuffed toy that had belonged to her father when he was a child. Lara was fascinated with the dog. (The Siberian Husky is a beautiful dog breed with a thick coat that comes in a multitude of colors and markings. Their blue or multi-colored eyes and striking facial masks only add to the appeal of this breed, which originated in Siberia.) Then her grandparents, Marie and Steve Renner, gave her a movie, one of a series of Snow Buddies, a Disney story about five Golden Retriever puppies known as Buddies from Washington having fun playing hide and seek in a park.  In this one adventure, the dog sees an ice cream truck and decides to go in, forcing the others to rescue him. However, the Buddies become trapped in a truck heading to Alaska.  Upon arrival, the Buddies meet Shasta, a Siberian Husky puppy, whose 11-year-old owner is determined to win the Alaskan sled dog race. 

“Lara loves animals and started reading and watching anything about sled dogs and she kept talking about someday running the Iditarod,” said her father during an interview the morning of Jan. 13.  “She started collecting stuffed puppies and she and Makenzie (her younger sister) would set up strings of dog teams in the basement and attach dogs with yarn and shoe strings and pretend they were driving dogs and sledding.”  At one time Lara had a collection of 52 Siberian Husky stuffed toys in various sizes.

At the age of 10 years, Lara received her first live dog.  

In between those times, the Renners learned of a mentorship program in the New Hampshire Mushers Association. The use of “musher” is defined as any person engaging in a dog-powered sport, be it with a scooter, kick sled, cross country skis, dog sled, motorized training rig, etc.   The Renners found out that a musher lived only four miles from their home. Lara’s introduction to the sport was at age12 when she went to work to scoop poop, brush dogs and do kennel chores. “Lara did that for two years,” said her father.   “Her mother, Tuesday, and I thought that after two years of that, she would be like a kid with a pony, and after two weeks of chores, she wouldn’t want it anymore.”   But, that didn’t happen.

Lara has remained committed to her dream and the dogs.  Her daily routine starts at 6:00 a.m. when she arises to water and feed the dogs. At 7:30, she releases the first group of dogs into their large backyard enclosed by an 8-foot chain link fence where the dogs are free to run and exercise. At noon, she releases the second play group; and at 6:30 p.m. releases the third group. In between she checks to make sure all dogs have water, and provides the second feeding at 4:00. At 10:00 the dogs are kenneled for the night.

Lara is home schooled and that permits her time to study and to work with the dogs.  Her father is a certified teacher, and Lara also has some individual private teachers for particular subjects.  

Steve works as an outdoor educator for TimberNook, Barrington, North Hamp-shire, with 40 sites across the United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.  It is play-based outdoor curriculum — anything from wilderness skills to crafty, creative projects with strong play basis, using free play as a way to teach and promote healthy social development in children and adults.   He writes curriculum and teaches some of the programs in New Hampshire, and is part of the training team for providers across the country and in other countries.    He has been doing contract work the past eight years. “I work when I want, so I’m able to do this trip,” he explained.   “I’ll get back at it after Iditarod.”  His wife is a family physician, and provides the primary source of family income. They have a second daughter, Mackenzie, 13.

The Iditarod is the most sporting event in Alaska, a grueling trek for both the musher and the dogs. But if you think the race takes a long time, just imagine the training. 

Training for dog sledding starts in August, early mornings when the temperature is below 50 degrees. “We start at about 4:45 to 5:00 a.m. with short runs before the temperature heats up and is too much for the dogs,” Steve explained.  During training, the Renners travel various distances to race their dogs along courses that span from a few miles to 30-35 mile runs each day.

 

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