We often forget that teachers have lives outside of school. Many have families. Many are community volunteers. And many have interesting hobbies and pastimes.
No one in the district knew Steve Davis was a sled dog fanatic when he was hired this summer as the new Jarvis Middle School technology teacher. Principal Melissa Hoskey learned about his passion when Mr. Davis was forced to ask for days off to represent the United States at the International Federation of Sledding Sports Dryland World Championships in Bristol, Quebec.
Mrs. Hoskey immediately saw an opportunity.
“We want our students to know how big and diverse this world is. We want them to explore exciting and new things. Mr. Davis’ hobby fits all of those categories,” she said.
With help from secretary Amy Murphy, they arranged a special presentation to students on Tuesday, Oct. 27. Mr. Davis shared all sorts of information about racing sled dogs from actually racing on snow and on dry land to proper dog care.
In return, the students made a special presentation of their own. They gave Mr. Davis a basket filled with people snacks, dog treats and a CV Thunder cap to wear as he represented the United States at the championships. They all signed a giant banner wishing him luck in his race.
In Quebec, he competed in the 4 Rig Nordic Breed class, a special cart pulled by four registered Siberian Huskies, Malamutes or Samoyeds.
In the end, he finished his two-day event in fifth place, a little disappointing for the six-year veteran. He said he struggled with his lead dog both days. The second day, the leader kept trying to shortcut the serpentine trail.
He and his team covered the 3-mile course in 12:52.35 on day one and 13:02.72 on day two.
“My time normally would be up with the top three finishing times,” he said.
A love of dogs and racing
Mr. Davis got started in racing when he and his wife took in a rescue Husky. They soon added two Siberian Huskies from people who could not keep them.
“Since I had three dogs, I decided to try hooking them up to a sled for exercise. My wife and I went to watch a sled dog race up in Inlet, NY. After that we were hooked,” he said.
His kennel has since grown to 17 Registered Siberian Huskies and one Alaskan Malamute.
“We race about four dryland races and about four sled races each year, sometime more or less depending on the weather. We have raced in Quebec, Ontario, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, and Michigan,” he said.
To train, he waits until the temperatures cool enough to not stress the dogs, then he runs them about five times a week.
He said racing is very much a team sport.
“The dogs and I are a team. As the musher, I am the leader of the team and have to make decisions that are the best for the dogs. I would have to say the more important part is the dogs. They are the engine of the team. No matter what kind of driver you are, without a good engine, you will not be able to place high in races,” Mr. Davis said.
His team, however, is more than he and the dogs.
“There is no way I could manage a kennel of 18 dogs without help from my wife. I am lucky to be the one on the runners, but the real work starts back at the kennel and with daily kennels maintenance,” he explained.
Racing dogs is very much a niche sport. There are at least eight teams in New York, but it is an aging sport. As mushers, the competitors are always looking for young new mushers to help grow its popularity.
He sees great promise in dryland racing.
“Dryland is still a young sport compared to sled racing,” he said.
“It has grown exponentially over the last five years. In part, that’s because it is an alternative to sled racing, especially in areas that lack good snow cover.”
Dryland racing also offers a wider range of classes than snow racing. Dog teams of two, four, six or eight can pull carts (a cross between a sled and a chariot), a scooter, or a bicycle. In the Canicross, both human and dog run the race. And unlike lengthy snow races, dryland races are usually sprints of about three miles.
Living in the Mohawk Valley where snow cover can vary, he takes advantage of both dryland and sled racing. He competes in 30-mile sled races and hopes to tackle a 100-mile race in the future.
About dogs and technology
As much as he likes to race, he says it is all about the love for the dogs.
“Anyone can get involved with this sport. It is a great way to exercise and to spend quality time with your dog or dogs,” he said.
Further, the sport taps into the dogs’ natural ability to run.
“Siberian Huskies love to chase, this is part of their predator instinct,” he said.
This year’s race was a great example of that chase instinct.
Racers start at one-minute intervals. France’s Didier Ozel was the first team out the first day, finishing third. On the second day, he started third, two minutes behind the leader. His dogs were able to sense the teams ahead and chase them, cutting 30 seconds off Ozel’s first run, turning in the fastest time of the meet and lifting Ozel into second place.
Sled dog racing offers Mr. Davis a break from his days teaching technology.
“This is how I unwind. It is nice to just unplug from technology for a while and spend some quiet time out on the trails with my dogs,” he said.
Even with the dogs, however, technology plays a part. He uses a computer program that tracks important information about each of his dogs, including training distances, placement in team, medical issues, and racing strategies for distance races. He also uses GPS to avoid getting lost on longer distance training runs and races.