Retired musher tells story
Mush, isn’t something Dick Whitmore eats in the morning, but what he used to yell at his Siberian Huskies during his dog-sled racing years.
Whitmore travel the local dog-sledding circuits 15 years ago in this general area.
“I mainly raced around the Colorado area,” Whitmore said. “It was fun racing dogs.”
Whitmore became interested in dog sledding after buying a Siberian husky for his son. The big dog made Whitmore curious, and he wanted to know more about dog sled racing. He decided to drive to Utah and watch the dog sled races.
“I met a sled dog trainer while in Utah. That really inspired me,” Whitmore said. “It looked like a lot of fun, too.”
Whitmore was living in Las Vegas when he bought his first husky. He then moved to Utah, brought a team of Siberian huskies and started training them for racing.
Whitmore’s wife, Maryann, helped train the dogs.
“I would spend a lot of time training the pups,” Maryann said. “And cleaning up their mess was another thing.”
First thing in the morning, the Whitmores would grab the dog lines, harness the dogs and bring them to the staging area to hook them up.
“The dogs would be barking and going wild,” Dick said. “The dogs couldn’t wait to get running.”
Huskies have a desire to run hard and fast all the time, he added.
“These dogs are bred to racing,” Whitmore said.
Training sled-dog take alot o time and energy team working together and winning races.
“It takes at least a year or more to have a trained team of sled dogs,” Dick said. “The hardest part is getting the pups disciplined, conditioned and running in cadence.”
One would think the dogs would have a voracious appetite after running 12 miles and eating only once a day.
“This is not true,” Maryann said. “I had problems keeping fat on the dogs. The dogs wouldn’t eat enough food or drink enough water. I would have to mix tuna fish in their water, and they would love it. Even the best the dog food had only 30 percent protein and fat, which wasn’t enough. These dogs need a high protein and high fat diet.”
“We would go to the butcher shop and have the butcher grind up meat straps and animal fats. Dick said. “The ground meat is high in protein and fat.”
When the dogs and well fed and conditioned, they are ready to race.
A musher can enter a race with four-dog, six-dog or eight-dog team. There are at least 10 dogs classifications to race in.
“The rule of thumb is one dog per mile,” Dick said. “So if you entered a race with six dogs, you have to race at least six miles.”
Dog racing is about getting the best time on the course.
“It takes about 15 minutes to run a six-mile course with a good team, and 25 minutes on the average,” he said. “A sled dog can run 16 to 18 miles per hour.”
The key to dog racing is getting a excellent lead dog who can lead the team.
“A lead dog will set the pace and get out and lead the team in races,” Dick said. “Some dogs don’t like to be lead dogs because they are afraid.”
Whitmore has several exciting memories about dog sledding.
“I was in Heber City, Utah, and I didn’t know the course had changed,” he said. “I was on level snow and the course went downhill and suddenly turned. I had to make a 90 degree turn. I leaned to my right side and the dogs responded well. I careened the sled around the turn and on to one blade. It was great, There were people watching and taking pictures of me. I did the same thing the next day. I found out later several sled teams missed the turn and went straight into deep snow, which cost them time.”
“My most exciting moment came when I won the three-dog championship in Leadville,” Maryann said. “It was fun because I was about two miles above sea level where the air is thinner and harder to breathe.”
The Whitmores weren’t afraid to open the Siberian Spirit Wind Kennel. They bred Siberian huskies, trading or selling them to people in the dog-racing circles.
“It’s not a money-making business,” Dick said. “I did it because it was fun.”
“We sold dogs internationally in Belgium and France,” Maryann said.
A few for the dogs bred in their kennel went on to become actors and models.
One dog was on a Denver Bronco calendar with several cheerleaders, and another dog became famous in Hollywood as a lead stunt dog in the Disney’s film “Iron Will,” Dick said.
Dick got tied of racing and retired in 1985, but that’s when Maryann started racing.
“I raced for three years and retired,” Maryann said.
Dick is now retired from his professional job as a CPA accountant. He was certified in California, Nevada and Colorado. Maryann is a retired Licensing Practicing Nurse. Both retired in 1992.
Dick and Maryann raised a family of seven children five sons and two daughters.
“Our kids live all over the place,” Maryann said.
The golden years haven’t slowed Dick down; he has many hobbies to stay busy with.
“I like working with linguistics,” Dick said. “I study German and Spanish. I like to play chess with the computer program chessmate.”
“I really enjoyed those racing day,” he added.