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Meet the Rookie: Kim Darst

By Ellen Ogintz, NJ, 2008 Summer Camp Teacher
Whether up in the air in her helicopter or gliding through the snow with her team, Iditarod 2009 rookie Kim Darst has the dog mushing in her blood…and it all started with a gift from her friend Susan Butcher… four legged gift of one of Butcher’s huskies!

Kim Darst is a helicopter pilot. In fact, she was the youngest helicopter pilot in the world at one time (and even got her high school diploma by helicopter). Kim was making trips to Alaska as a pilot for years and became fascinated with the state sport of dog mushing. Couple that with the friendship of renowned musher Susan Butcher and Iditarod 2009 was inevitable! It took many years and many miles…15 mile races…30 mile races…100 mile races…and this year Kim is qualified to live her dream.

Kim is a self-taught musher, with very good friends. Along with the tips and dogs she received from Susan Butcher (her current team has 12 dogs from Butcher’s dog lines), Kim had the advice of Mike Ellis for her 100 and 250 mile sprints, and now Al Hardman and Ed Stielstra to help her prepare for the Iditarod. In fact, Kim is spending the winter in Minnesota at Hardman’s kennel in preparation for Iditarod 2009.

And what is it like at Hardman’s kennel? Well, Kim is up very early to care for the dogs and then it’s off for increasingly longer and longer runs in EVERY type of condition. Then back to the kennel to take care of and hook up her SECOND team to do it all again!

Although Kim loves being with her team and doing her runs, choosing to be in Iditarod 2009 has hardships as well. Sure there’s the challenge of raising a minimum of $50,000 just to pursue this dream, but there’s also the challenge of being 1000 miles away from her family, friends, and the retired dogs in her 30 dog kennel. Kim has also put her business on hold for six months.

Kim used the Can-Am 250 and the Seney 300 for qualifying races. These were challenging races, but Kim learned a lot from the experiences and was successful. Kim learned that you can’t relie on the weather. For example, it rained the whole time of the Seney 300!  This also taught Kim that you need raingear! She also learned that you may need to feed your team items OTHER than meat because meat can go bad! It was pretty warm during the Can-Am 250. The dogs needed more rest that Kim figured into her plan, and  had to do more running at night. The most important lesson Kim learned from her qualifying races was that you have to keep your spirits high so that your team’s spirit will stay high too.

What will Kim be packing in her sled? Well, other than the mandatory items required by the ITC, Kim will have her iPod, with plenty of batteries, a weapon for moose or other game animals (that she hopes to not have to use), lots of candy bars for energy and Gatorade for hydration.

In thinking about challenges for the race, the Dalzell Gorge and the Happy River steps are always on Kim’s mind! Then there are the complicated logistics of getting the drop bags to Alaska in time, getting her team up to Alaska for vet checks, getting herself to the rookie meeting and then back up to Alaska for the start of the race! We’re talking about a 6,000 mile trip each time! And when Kim’s mind is at rest about all of these challenges, what slips into her thoughts? Well, the challenges trail conditions and lack of sleep! But these are all just thoughts…Kim is giving her all to her training and nothing will stop Kim Darst from Iditarod 2009.

Finally, I asked Kim what her goal was for this year’s Iditarod…and her goal is exactly what you would expect…to finish the race with as many happy and healthy dogs as possible.  With the support of her dog team, friends, family, her fellow mushers in Minnesota and her memories of her friendship with Susan Butcher I know Kim Darst will accomplish her goal.

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