Merrill Winterfest Sled Dog Races Continue Through Cold

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Two of Merrill's Winterfest events are being rescheduled due to the cold and age of participants, but their dog sled races managed to continue and embrace the frosty air. The cardboard sled races and the snow sculptures were moved to February 22 because the event was intended for young children.

"I just love it. I'm hooked," said Professional Musher, Michaela Marquardt with the Wisconsin Trailblazers Sled Dog Club.

She's has been racing for the past seven or eight years. She found her passion for the sport at this very race years ago.

"I came up here, met some people and they helped me out, they started me up and it's just taken off to a whole new level now," she said.

What normally is a 10-mile race was shortened to four miles due to high, cold winds on Saturday.

"This is a speed race," said Merrill Winterfest Sled Dog Races Marshal, Duane Dittmar. "This is not a distance race like the Iditarod. These dogs will be running fast. They average 20 miles per hour."

The dogs start training when temperatures hit 50 degrees, so around August or September, and start learning how to race when they're about seven months old.

"We stick an older dog that's used to running, knows what it's doing," said Marquardt. "We'll stick it next to the young pup and the older dog actually does most of the teaching for us."

Many mushers said once the dogs learn to run, that's all they want to do.

"What I really like is the dogs are so excited to go and they're barking and once they get going they're just silent and just go," said spectator Bob Swoboda of Wausau. "I like when they're getting ready to go they're leaping in the air getting ready."

"A lot of people that have never been to a sled dog race, they think we force the dogs to do this," said Marquardt. "We don't at all. They love to do this, they're bred for it. They just get so excited and just want to run. They don't want to be sitting inside on the couch a lot. These dogs hate being inside. They want to be outside, run around. This is what they love, this is what they're bred for."

As any team would have a connection to each player, mushers said they share a special bond with their dogs.

If you're interested in seeing these furry athletes in action, you can visit the Wisconsin Trailblazers Website to find a list of race times and locations.

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