interview with Zoya DeNure
In the 2002 she moved to Alaska , seeking a more basic lifestyle away from all the city hub-bub, seemed like an easy decision. Now, nine years later Zoya owns and operates Denali Highway Tours & Cabins; a cabin rental retreat on the Denali Highway. The family kennel, Crazy Dog Kennels, takes in unwanted sled dogs; rehabilitating them with a positive training program.
Read this beautiful interview
What made you decide to take this career path?
I don't think I choose it but raher, it choose me. There was no one thing that jumped out and said; »sled dog racing! That's it!« I always had an affinity for animals and the outdoors. Dogs in particular. I have a competitive spirit and striving for a goal of some kind is attractive. Also, the thought of molding so many different personalities into a single cohesive unit is addictive, challenging and reawrding. Seeing and doing the wild country in a way that can only be done by dog team was once just a dream but now is my daily reality. I had a goal when I came to Alaska and that was to one day be an Iditarod musher, living and breathing dogs 365 days of the year.
Tell us about your dogs . Who will be in your team for the 2012?
Oh, they are all so great. I am very happy with them and so proud of how hard they work for me. I have a good relationship with my dogs and feel like this gives us a little extra something at the end. Some of my dogs have been bought, rescued and or bred from my own bloodline- this bloodline comes from two exceptional dogs,Trapper & Phoebe, both from our kennel. Looking ahead at the Iditarod, the team picks today are lead dogs Sebe, Fender, Spicy, Demon, Sadie, Djembe and Bumper. Team dogs are Bligh, Storey, Peak, Mulder, Slick, Mudflap, Elwood, Dude and Robin.
You runs rescued dogs from around Alaska. How it's all started?
I started running rescues because I couldn't afford to pay the high prices that competitive racing kennels were asking. I wasn't looking to put togther a comptitive team the first few years anyway and found the work with these animals very challenging at times and always rewarding. I was learning so much from them and in return with patience and consistency, they would start to do their job effectivly. Quickly after I started looking around for sled dogs to make up a team, people in the area were calling me to take their unwanted dogs off their hands. I soon discovered the great need for rescue within the sport and that all most of these dogs needed was more time, love, guidance and patience. After living with and training dogs full time, I realized that dogs are just dogs---they have no idea if they are a rescue or not. Not all free dogs are not hard working amazing pullers, given a little time and softer training, some of these dogs turn into real crazy happy pullers. There is no one dog that is alike.
When the Crazy Dog Kennel idea starts?
It was just a kennel name that I liked----so interesting; when I met my future husband, I found that he also had that kennel name----completely independently---neither of us knew of each other.
You had the beautiful idea to make Winter & Summer Kennel Tours .A very nice and unique experience in a true Alaskan Sled dog kennel.When this idea was born ?
A couple of seasons ago, we had an inquiry asking if it was possible to take a summer overnight dog trip into the Alaska outback. We said »yes«, and that was the beginning. It's been a very successful branch to our home life and business with dogs and we certainly enjoy sharing it with others.
What comes to your mind if I say Yukon Quest?
My husband. Eagle Summit and the cold. When I came to Alaska in 2002, I didn't know who John was and I didn't know anything about the Quest. I was just focused on Iditarod. Since being with my husband and handling for him on the Quest, I've learned a lot about the race; John has finished the race 19 times, won it twice and has never been out of the money, it's typically pretty cold race and that everyone talks about Eagle Summit. I camped on Eagle Sumitt my first summer in AK with a friend and my dog, Ethan. It was just breathtaking!
Which were for you the most beautiful moments of your career ?
Receving the humanatarin award in the Gin Gin 200, 2007
Leaving Ruby in 08 and seeing the Northern Lights and my team trotting down the Yukon so easily.
Crossing the finish line in Nome in 2008 with my wonderful team, greeted by my mother, husband and several friends.
I was 5 weeks along with our daughter, Jona, during this race, we confirmed the good news just hours after I crossed the finish line. We were all together to celebrate the race finish and the news.
Iditarod has been by far the best race for seeing breathtaking country with wild and varied terrain. It's such a great event world wide and I'm so happy to be able to take part in it.
Can you tell us what is your best memory of the Iditarod?
Sleeping under the stars in Cripple '08 with my team. I was dead tired when I arrived, it was all I had to do my chores and roll out my sleeping bag before taking a well deserved power nap. Then two of my favorite team dogs, littermates Bligh and Storey snuggled up real close to my neck and I could feel their breath on my face, that put me into a deep and peaceful sleep.
To participate in the Iditarod and Yukon Quest , that are very hard competitions, how changes the training for competitions like this compared to a simple sled dog race?
To begin, there are no »simple sled dog races«. One must train equally hard and be just as focused whether the goal be a 100-mile race or a 1000 mile event. I guess the main difference is in the length of training. I think it takes 5-6 solid months to prepare dogs for 1000 mile races. There is a mental challenge for them as well as the obvious physical challenges. There needs to be a lot of endurance, stamina and trust when going into the Iditarod or Quest. On the mushers end as well as their dog team.
How and how much do you train during the week?
Training is never static---it may vary from one year to the next, as our thoughts change and as we learn more. We may do some experimentation---and hope we are successful! The number of miles is not the main factor, in reality it may be a very minor one. At the moment, we are running 40-60 miles per week on the Quad and some on the sleds. Later, we will be on the sleds about 90% of the time. Dogs are out 4-5 times per week and may also go on loose walks. As the season progresses, the amount of time spent on the sleds, pulling at varying speeds, increases. In early Dec. We will do a non-stop run, (except for snacks), lasting from 14-16 hours.