Controlling 30 strong, high-energy sled dogs is an exercise. It is an exercise in flexibility and teamwork, but it’s also just plain exercise. Mushing requires intense and precise physical exertion from both the dogs and people trained to practice the state’s official sport. This summer, Bailey Friedman '18 applied her exercise science major to her canine athletes while interning at Alaska Heli-Mush Inc.
Friedman’s main responsibility as a musher was to guide visitors through a glimpse of America’s last frontier. While they rode along in the basket of the sled, Friedman ran the dogs down a two-mile trail on the remote Norris Glacier. She also fielded their questions and explained the important role mushing has played in Alaskan history.
When not giving tours, Friedman oversaw the maintenance and intensive care of her sled dog team—from feeding and cleaning them to health inventories. She monitored and kept careful notes about their energy expenditure, nutrition and hydration, coat maintenance and body temperature. In short, she made sure the dogs were running at maximum performance.
“A musher must be so in-tune with their team that they can relay this information to tourists,” explained Friedman.
According to Friedman, canine athletes share many of the same needs as human athletes, and she draws upon a common knowledge base developed at Colby-Sawyer in classes on human sport. She cites courses such as Nutrition, Exercise Physiology and Exercise Prescription as especially helpful in preparing her for the job.
The Norris Glacier is only accessible by helicopter. Like the other 20 staff members, she lived off the grid on the glacier fulltime with the 200 elite Alaskan and Siberian Huskies in company-constructed tents.
“It takes a special kind of tenacity to put a smile on your face while feeding dogs at 6 a.m. when you have been stuck on a glacier with no contract with the outside world for 14 days” said Friedman.
But the challenge was worth it for the chance to merge her studies with a lifelong passion. Originally from Center Lovell, Maine, Friedman has been running dogs since she was 10 years old. Before completing her internship, she attended a musher’s school in Willow, Alaska, to fine-tune her skills.
Colby-Sawyer helped Friedman along the way. Friedman’s adviser, Professor of Exercise & Sport Sciences Kerstin Stoedefalke, informed her of a grant opportunity funded by Jean Cragin Ingwersen '54. The money defrayed some of the costs associated with Friedman's cross-country internship.
After graduating, Friedman plans to move to Alaska to continue mushing. Her connections at Alaska Heli-Mush bring her one step closer to completing her ultimate goal of running the Iditarod.
“Colby-Sawyer’s internship requirement helped me realize how my love for sled dogs could be related to my chosen career path of exercise science,” said Friedman. “The dogs are some of the most dedicated and driven athletes with whom I have worked.”