Science

Going to the Dogs

May 01, 2004 1 min read

This year marks the eighth running of Verdoorn’s Alaskan race simulation.
—Photograph by Kevin Horan

Once a year, a group of 4th graders is transmogrified into furry beasts of burden, sprinting on all fours and steaming with exertion as they battle the elements and each other in a mad dash to win the grueling 1,150-mile Alaskan sled race known as the Iditarod. OK, they don’t really, but they do come as close as the laws of physics and the code of conduct at their suburban Chicago elementary school allow. Each March—the same month the real Iditarod takes place—the kids slip into hula hoops harnessed to wheeled sleds and mush around the school. They take periodic rests, just like the real dogs of the 10-day race, and they lap up their meals from bowls just as eagerly as their canine counterparts.

Participants lap up their meals from bowls just as eagerly as their canine counterparts.
—Photograph by Kevin Horan

All this verisimilitude is thanks to Marty Verdoorn, the students’ teacher at Munhall Elementary School in St. Charles, Illinois, and a serious enthusiast of the race. This year marked the eighth running of Verdoorn’s race simulation, which caps the Iditarod unit she teaches every year, but she still vividly remembers the first one. “I’d sent out a little note to all the teachers saying what we were doing and that we’d try to be quiet racing down the halls. Then [the racers] rounded the corner and the whole hall was lined with kids... cheering. I just get goose bumps remembering that.”

—Scott J. Cech

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