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Kane County sixth-grader gets to ride in Iditarod

OliviGoodenough 11 sixth grader Kaneland's Harter Middle School peruses 2012 Iditarod race guide preparatifor her upcoming trip Alaskride legendary race.

Olivia Goodenough, 11, a sixth grader at Kaneland's Harter Middle School, peruses the 2012 Iditarod race guide, in preparation for her upcoming trip to Alaska to ride in the legendary race. Olivia's grandfather, Dennis Goodenough, earned her a spot as a rider after placing a bid in an auction aimed at raising support for the event. | Michele du Vair~For Sun-Times Media

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“I look to the dogs for clarity. Their unleashed passion is
inspirational, driving me to be a better musher and a better human, for the emotion is raw and gripping, not hidden and material.”

— Musher Colleen Robertia, who will drive the dog sled
carrying Kaneland’s Olivia Goodenough

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Updated: April 3, 2012 8:09AM

Sixth-grader Olivia Goodenough has dreamed of riding with sled dogs in the Iditarod Race through the Alaskan wilderness.

Now, her dream of being on the sled — behind a team of barking dogs eager to run the rugged historical trail — is about to become a reality.

“I’ll probably be thinking how I can’t believe that I am actually going to do this,” Olivia said.

The 11-year-old, a student at Kaneland Harter Middle School, will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity on Saturday to ride with a musher in the 11-mile ceremonial start of the legendary dog sled race, as thousands of spectators gather in downtown Anchorage.

The ceremonial start gives mushers a chance to meet with fans and for Idita-Riders to ride in the sleds of some of the world’s top competitors. The official start of the Iditarod is the following day, in Wasilla, about 50 miles from Anchorage.

The youngster is getting the opportunity after her grandparents, Dennis and Karen Goodenough of Geneva, placed a winning bid on the Idita-Rider Musher Auction. Winners of the auction have the privilege of riding in the sleds of mushers who will brave the 1,049-mile journey through rugged terrain, across frozen rivers and jagged mountains.

“I probably had the biggest smile you could ever have, and I hugged them,” Olivia said when she was told that she would be going to the race.

Olivia visited her great aunt in Alaska last summer and had a chance to test-run her dog sled and meet “Snowball,” the dog she affectionately calls her own. Her parents, Dean and Kim Goodenough of Maple Park, said they are thrilled for their daughter and expect she’ll have lots to talk about.

Olivia hopes to Skype the excitement at the starting line to her classmates and friends at home.

“I definitely love dogs,” she said. “I volunteer at a shelter to help the dogs, cats and birds.”

Olivia has studied the race and profile of musher Colleen Robertia — her match for the event. Robertia, 35, hails from the East Coast, operates a kennel in Alaska and has trained with Iditarod competitors.

Olivia also will attend a banquet where the mushers learn their placement in the race. The event commemorates the 1925 “Great Race of Mercy” to save lives of children threatened by a diphtheria epidemic in Nome, Alaska.

“We are thrilled and shocked she will actually be riding with a musher,” said Christy Kukovec, her Harter Middle School homeroom teacher.

“Olivia gets along with everyone and is always looking to help her teachers,” Kukovec said. “The experience will give her a global perspective of things outside of her hometown and try out skills she’s never used before.”

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